Even in today’s highly competitive job market many employers are planning to increase their hiring of temporary employees and contractors. For example, in a 2011 McKinsey Global Institute study of 2,000 employers, 34% of Human Resource Executives surveyed said they expect to use more temps and contractors over the next five years. Some veteran chemists overlook temp and contractor job opportunities because they’ve held long-term staff positions most of their career according to Albuquerque, N.M career coach, Joy Moore. Instead they only focus on finding another long-term job, which can be short-sighted.
Given the current state of the job market, temporary jobs and limited term contract assignments can be productive and financially rewarding ways to develop industrial job experience. Another advantage is that working a temporary assignment can be a way to expand one’s professional network, an aid to future job hunting.
There is a temp-to-perm phenomenon in which managers evaluate people working temporary positions and offer the outstanding ones long-term positions. I learned this technique from one of my bosses at Shell and used it myself when I became a research manager. It reduces the risks associated with hiring new employees and allows the organization to “try before you buy” and allow the individual to prove themselves.
As work continues to be organized on a project model, employers face a major challenge. Projects have a finite lifetime and often require highly specialized skills. As projects are completed or terminated, employers often have less need for individuals with the highly specialized skills required by the project. However, staff reductions are can be both demoralizing to the remaining lab staff and costly as well. This conundrum can be solved by hiring contingent employees and/or outsourcing at least some of the project work to contractors. These individuals work and are paid only for the life of the project. According to Jeffrey Wenger, associate professor of public administration and policy at the University of Georgia, letting temporary employees and contractors go has smaller effects on permanent staff morale.
Short-term work force concerns
Serious issues can arise with using contingent employees, such as staff loyalty. As the job market improves and more long-term chemistry jobs become available, what can managers and their staffing firms do to maintain contingent employees’ loyalty until the project no longer needs their services? Candidates with a strong cultural fit to your lab and having transferable skills to other assignments are more likely to be loyal. Providing enough training, rewards, and performance feedback helps keep temps engaged, motivated and loyal. Small rewards such as a free lunch for good performance can go a long way toward winning loyalty.
Confidentiality is another concern. Many temps and contractors must be given access to proprietary information in order to do their jobs. Indeed, some of them may generate new proprietary information. A greater emphasis on staff confidentiality is needed. The most common approaches have been frequent education and reminders to hold the lab operator’s processes a secret. A security breach can lead to an expensive and lengthy investigation, termination and even a drawn out lawsuit. This can tarnish the reputations of the laboratory and staffing firm as security breaches are often reported in trade journals such as Chemical & Engineering News.
The role of the staffing firm
Because of the high unemployment rate, one problem is the flood of applicants for open positions. This makes it more difficult to find truly qualified applicants in a short amount of time. One way laboratory operators can reduce this problem is to develop a relationship with staffing firms that have developed a thorough understanding of the laboratory’s staffing needs. Working closely with a contingent staffing firm, discussing requirements and providing feedback on candidates, can help lab managers and their staffing firms refine their recruiting strategy and more easily find the best candidates. Staffing firms screen candidates and send only the best to interview.
Interviews are usually on-site and last about an hour, opposed to an all-day affair commonly used when interviewing permanent candidates. Many staffing firms have the policy that if a company decides the temporary staffer is unsuitable during the first day of work the staffing firm absorbs the cost. This provides additional insurance against the company making a poor hiring decision and the staffing firm is less likely to recommend that person to the company again.
Contractors are usually hired directly by companies needing the work done. Because contractors often work fairly independently and often earn considerably more than typical temporary employees, the interviewing process is often more rigorous.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.