Experts Predict: Half Your Workforce Will Be Temps

The world is suddenly waking up to the discovery that employers are bringing on temp and contract workers at a pace that will soon surpass the peak numbers of 2006.

Subscribers to The Fordyce Letter first read about the surge in temp workers in the May issue. Following the release of the June employment numbers by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reported, “There are now 2.534 million contract and temp workers in the U.S., a number just a few months shy of exceeding the all time high of 2.657 million reached in August 2006.”

Now, U.S. News says “Temp Workers Make Huge Comeback.” The article points out that the staffing industry has regained almost all the jobs lost in the recession, while other employers have added just over half the ones they shed. It’s not simply a sign of cautious employers bringing in extra help while waiting to see what the economy will do, but evidence of a trend.

Says the article, “In 1983, temporary workers made up just over half a percent of all employment. Now, that figure stands at nearly 2.3 percent — a remarkable change, despite the small numbers.”

“It’s a structural transformation,” maintains Arne Kalleberg, a professor of sociology at University of North Carolina who studies the labor force.

Meanwhile, Dana Shaw, former senior vice president for Staffing Industry Analysts, says, “Currently, the average mix of contingents in the Fortune 100 is 20-30 percent of the workforce, but it will evolve to 50 percent.” That evolution, she says, will be complete in barely eight years.

Article Continues Below

Shaw is quoted in an article by Thomas Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. In  “The Contingent Workforce and Public Decision Making,” Fisher details what he sees as the implications of having a workforce that could be as much as 40% even 50% contract and temp. Some of these impacts are transitory, as older workers without modern business skills are forced into underemployment and become what he calls “a lost generation of workers.”

The longer term changes wrought by the rise of freelance, says Fisher, has several positives.

The rise of a large, contingent workforce also has a more optimistic side to it, however, since it reflects the emergence of what some have called the ‘next economy’, fueled by the digital revolution. In this next economy, workers will have much more flexibility in terms of how, when, and where they work, and they will have, over the
course of their careers, many professional engagements and maybe even several different careers altogether rather than the long-term, relatively permanent employment of the old economy.

Fisher’s view is that government needs to respond now to the changes in the way we work, rethinking everything from commuting patterns and the consequent impact on highways and public transportation, to the tax incentives communities provide employers.

It may become more important, for example, to provide wide-bandwidth wireless service, flexible live-work housing, and walkable communities with plenty of gathering places nearby than to offer the traditional economic incentives of tax breaks, financial incentives, and minimal regulation. What worked in the old economy can completely backfire in the new one.

Next week, the U.S. Labor Department will release the August employment numbers. Analysts have yet to make public their monthly predictions about payroll changes, however there isn’t much reason to expect any significant swings either up or down. The report, though, will detail how the staffing industry job counts changed. The expectation is that the numbers will be up.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


12 Comments on “Experts Predict: Half Your Workforce Will Be Temps

  1. Hmmm. Instead of the “temp workforce” or the “contingent work force” how about: the “2nd class workforce” instead? This continually expanding group has minimal benefits, minimal job security, and minimal opportunities. The “2nd Class Workforce” consists not only of aging boomers (and soon Xers), but also the young so-called “Generation Screwed” who are leaving universities with massive debts but few job prospects.

    No Cheers,


  2. I agree that this is a structural transformation – not just in the changes in view points of the employers but also in the view point of the workers. People want to choose when, where and how they work – Working your “own way” is becoming high on the priority list of most workers where job satisfaction is equating more and more towards job flexibility and the ability to pick and choose assignments.


  3. Temporary staffing is on the rise, that’s no doubt. Companies are hesitant to expand their workforce permanently as the economy remains unstable. The question is, will this really become a structural transformation in the way America hires? My inclination is yes….at least for the foreseeable future. Contract workers provide flexibility and a way to get the job done at a fraction of the cost…but there are benefits for the employee as well. Here’s a few I shared in my blog post:

  4. “In this next economy, workers will have much more flexibility in terms of how, when, and where they work…..”

    Never heard more hogwash in my life. I’ve worked as a “contigent” “contractor” or “temp”, largely against my will because thats all the company was hiring, at large multinational companies for 5 years or more and never once encountered one that didn’t dictate my hours and location and even desk just like a regular employee.
    You’re just an employee but without benefits or job security…. case closed.

  5. I have completed much of my work in the financial services industry and even before the crash in 2008, there was a heavy bias towards contract / temp / consultant resource. In one situation the level was over 75% across 600 resources.

    The rationale being that organisations beleive they can remove FTE quickly when not required. Likewise in the project space, resources are usually needed quickly and the lead time to add perm resource is very slow.

    So don’t think this is a change it is just that it is being better recognised and organisations planning to use resource this way.

    Good article.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *