For Donald Knight, working as a temporary employee is a full-time job.
During the last six years, the 37-year-old computer program analyst has skipped from Lockheed to Rockwell International and now to Northrop, not as an employee of any of those aerospace giants, but of Amtec Systems Corp., a "high-tech temp" company in Culver City that sends out its programmers on short-term assignments.
"Working as a temporary employee gives you an opportunity to see different ways of doing business, to meet new people and really advance your technical expertise," Knight said. "You don't ever get stale or stagnate."
For example, Knight added, "as a permanent employee, if you are the guru of the payroll system, say, you become too valuable in that capacity, so you don't get to do anything else at the company. In temporary work, or contracting, you are brought in to do the challenging side of a major project. . . . When the need for you is less great, you move on."
While high-tech temps are not the typical temporary worker--clerical workers still make up the bulk of the temporary-help industry--Knight is one of a growing number of Southern Californians who have opted for the temporary route and are helping account for the boom in the temporary employment business.
Industry officials estimate that there are about 2,200 temporary-help companies comprising more than 7,000 offices around the country. The National Assn. of Temporary Services, which represents the bulk of the industry, reports that 5 million people worked as temporaries in 1984, with more than 600,000 jobs filled by temporary workers in any given week. A spokesman for NATS said the annual payroll hit the $6-billion mark in 1984.
Thomas Temporaries Inc., a 15-year-old Irvine-based firm with 26 offices around the state, has seen its sales increase dramatically from $4.8 million in 1974 to $35.1 million in 1984. Similarly, the company employed an average of 3,384 temporaries on any given day last year , compared with just 874 a decade ago.
Adia Personnel Services Inc. of Menlo Park anticipates employing 110,000 temps and posting about $230 million in revenues this year, compared to 80,000 employees and $185 million in revenues in 1984.
And at Kelly Girls, one of the nation's largest temporary-employment companies, with 600 offices nationwide and 35 in Southern California, 1984 sales were $741 million, a dramatic jump from the $524 million in sales they reported in 1983.
"There is no question that this is a tremendous growth industry in Southern California," said Glen Green, field vice president and Los Angeles regional manager for Kelly Services.
"Just about every temporary-help company is improving their position. . . . As far as the future is concerned, it certainly appears bright."
What is behind the growth?
Economics, for one thing. For companies, hiring temporary workers in place of permanent employees is a cost saver. Companies say they can cut their payroll expenses as much as 20%, because temporaries are typically paid less than full-time staff and are not eligible for the same costly health and other fringe benefits. In addition, hiring temps also decreases the amount of money a company must pay into the state unemployment fund because there is no risk of eventual layoffs. Typically, the more a company lays off employees, the greater percentage of its payroll it has to pay into the fund, because the government computes that percentage based on how many employees are let go.
By hiring only temporary workers, a company can keep down that percentage, which ranges from 1.5% to 10% of the total payroll, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Moreover, companies that are nervous about unexpected changes in the economy find they can use temporaries to handle seasonal peaks.
"It's more economic to use temps for overflow situations," said Philip Blair, co-owner of the Manpower franchise in San Diego, which expects to do more than $18 million in revenues this year. "Rather than staffing up to your busiest time of year and having people unproductive for a number of months, companies can staff up to their basic business level and, as surges come in, fill the positions with temps."
One temporary agency executive also noted that the industry has been helped by maternity-leave statutes that guarantee that women can return to their jobs.
Says Kim Megonigal, president of Thomas Temporaries, "Where else are these companies going to go, if not to temps?"
Temporary work can also be attractive to employees.
Apart from the flexible work schedules, temporary work can provide supplemental income, serve as a convenient way to reenter the job market after a lapse or a vehicle to "audition" companies while searching for the right permanent job.