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Temporary Workers

Posted by Mike on 6/16/2009 to Just Business

We had a very large shipment of safety items come in this week so we hired some temps from a local agency to help with unloading the boxes and moving them about in our warehouse.   When the economy is down, there’s always an abundance of laborers available.  But that’s not always a good thing.

We brought in 3 temp workers this morning for a 8- noon shift.  They were punctual.  And polite.  And they could follow directions.  But if I were grading their focus and effort, I’d give one of them a 4, one a 7 and one a 9.

You had one of the guys working very hard, very diligently, possibly in hopes that he might be asked to work for us again or even on a permanent, full-time basis.    He was focused, kept to himself, and did as he was asked.

You had another temp working lethargically, his mind elsewhere, watching the clock for every 8 dollars an hour he was to be paid from the temp agency.  He was a chit chatter, too.  He wanted to know how he could get a forklift operator license.  He wanted to know if we could recommend any classes for him to take to become a welder.  While he hoped we’d extend the 4 hour shift to a 5 hour payday, out of the other side of his mouth, he let his co-temps know that this was not the kind of work that suited him.  (He didn’t suit us either.)     

And in the middle was a guy working hard enough, I guess.  He didn’t want to be too out-performed by the best worker.  But he also didn’t see the need to exert himself too much since the weak link was gong to be paid just as much as him.  So he was just there in the middle.  If the other two people were both performing at a level 9, I suspect he would have be an 8 or a 9, too.

You never know what you are going to get with temps.  And its’ not until they’ve been working for several minutes do you know whether they will cut it or not.  Of course, we can always ask them to leave and call the temp agency and let them know it’s a no-go for the given person.  But part of the deal is that temp agency gets to send a replacement, and we’d lose too much time unloading a truck to have to wait for the new person to arrive.

Over the years, we’ve used a lot of temps.  Always for single day or half-day jobs.  For the most part, it’s a different mix of faces each time.  Sometimes, there are repeats, but it’s accidental when it happens.   We no longer specifically request anyone in particular.   When we do come across an especially good worker, we take notice.  We used to ask for such workers with our next project, but they were always off to more permanent jobs and no longer available.   And it was easy to see why.

Many times, we’ve had workers in who appeared (one even admitted) to have drug or alcohol problems.  One was thief who we found stuffing merchandise in his pants when he was left alone for 15 minutes.  Several have had language problems.  One had a learning disability.  And a couple were antagonists who were probaby fired for insubordination.   These people are likely to always remain temps or find it difficult to keep a permanent job for long.

It used to be that you could always find an excellent pool of work talent through temporary labor agencies.  But the economy has changed that.  When companies layoff staff or go out of business, both good workers, average workers and poor workers enter the temporary labor market.   Generally, those who stay temps for extended periods of time are marginally and less performing individuals.    Or, they may be good wokers in one field, but there just aren’t job openings available to do what they want to do, and so they need to take anything that comes up in order to survive.  And often, that may not be a good fit for the business that needs the temp help.

Businesses these days are smart enough to want to retain and attract workers to help a company succeed and blend in well over the long haul.  And people who used to enjoy permanently working as a temporary worker now are more interested in the security of a regular job.  That does not mean you can’t find a good temp these days.  It just means that if you blink, they’ll soon be gone.
Mike Lee