Help Wanted: Why Manufacturing Temps Are In Demand

Help Wanted: Temporary manufacturing workers are in demand.

Here are four very bad words you hear a lot these days:

There.  Are.  No.  Jobs.

But it turns out, that’s not entirely true.  Yes, the manufacturing sector lost six million jobs last decade.  But now, staffing agencies that place temporary workers in manufacturing say business is booming.[display_podcast]

To see for yourself, just walk up to an employment agency like Staffing Inc. in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The first thing you’ll notice is an unusual sign on the door.  It reads: “Now Hiring.”  Then inside, you’ll hear this:

“You’ll be required to place the parts on a machine, press a button to activate the machine, and remove the parts to inspect them, okay?”

Tiffany Easlick is briefing a new hire, Katie Sherwood, on her new, temporary, post.

Sherwood is, “pretty excited.”  She says it only took a couple weeks to find a job.  She laughs, signs some paperwork, and asks about safety glasses.

Sherwood’s little giggle is a far cry from the steady drumbeat of dire job numbers we’ve all
heard.  Shannon Burkel is Vice President of Sales for Staffing Inc..  From her perspective:

Becky Hall and Shannon Burkel of Staffing Inc say hiring is off the charts.

“There are  tons of jobs!”

Burkel says the business of matching temps with West Michigan manufacturers is better now than it’s been for the last ten years.  Even better than before the economic crisis.

“We are a leading indicator,” she says.  “The first to fall and the first to climb out.”

Same goes for Stacey Bigelow’s firm on the other side of the state.

“We’ve doubled our staff in the last year.  I mean it’s nuts,” Bigelow says, “but it’s taking longer to find people.  You know, our job boards are full.  Every day, they’re full.”

Bigelow says her company, Advance Staffing Solutions, is on track to have its biggest year ever.  So what’s going on here?

Temporary factory workers are nothing new.  However, the current demand for temps is partly the result of massive layoffs during the economic crisis.  Some manufacturers cut deeply into their core staffs, so deeply that as hiring resumes, they’re really starting from the ground up.  Shannon Burkel says a lot of companies are now building up a buffer of temporary workers.

“The hopes are, with little bumps in the economy, they never have to reach into their core
staff again.  And go through that financial and emotional pain that they had to,” she says.

Plus a lot of companies are just skittish about making permanent hires while the economy
is so uncertain.  They want to see demonstrated skills and they want to know the work will last.  Burkel says that cautiousness is turning trial-for-hire into THE route to a permanent manufacturing job.

Sure, some companies may treat temps like commodities.  But already this year, about 400 of Burkel’s temporary workers have been hired permanently by companies like Beverlin Manufacturing in Grand Rapids.

Rick Watson is the company’s president; his business makes perforated tubing and other
sheet metal fabrications.  Watson always tries out potential hires as temps first.  He says it’s the best way to ensure a good marriage and avoid liabilities.

“A lot of companies are hiring all their prospective employees through temp agencies,” he
says.  “Not just what used to be blue collar.  Now it’s technical people, it’s professional
people, the full gamut of people.”

Rick Watson says working with potential hires as temps first makes a successful marriage more likely.

Finding that full gamut of employees is the real challenge.  Staffing professionals say there just aren’t enough people coming through the door with up-to-date technical skills.  Not enough experienced welders, not enough high end machine operators and repairmen.  Bigelow says she doesn’t care what the unemployment numbers say.  There’s a labor shortage.

“I think we’ve been pushing our kids to go to college for so many years that they’re not
in these apprenticeship programs or any of these trades,” she says.  “So these people are very hard to find.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by manufacturers across the region, and it’s a problem that
may persist even if job opportunities continue to rise. 








8 Replies to “Help Wanted: Why Manufacturing Temps Are In Demand”

  1. This report really glossed over the realities AND frankly, advertised that Michigan might be sending too many kids to college for too long?  Seriously, you put that out over the airwaves in Michigan?. We have among the least educated and least skilled workforce in the country.  This advertisement for the temporary firms was sadly off base.

    These temp firms take advantage of desperate workers and greedy non-job creating employers who will pay the lowest possible hourly rate – a wage that these temp firms take a HUGE percentage off the top (bill rate -vs- pay rate) and,  because its temporary, provide NO benefits or appropriate insurance except for what these workers are willing to completely cover on their own.  Its greedy because in shifting these temporary workers to another business,  they  become an expense instead of an employee.  Employers can simply hire temporary employees but…they have to acknowledge hiring them and properly pay payroll taxes and insurance on the worker instead of the profit margin for the temp firm.  

    This is the worst form of employment and its predatory on people who are uneducated, unskilled and desperate enough to work quietly in a sweat shop for a short amount of time.  Is this what you want our economy to ‘shift gears’ toward?  really? Shame on you for that bit of reporting – one sided anecdotes of success without looking at the whole market.  And shame on you for allowing someone to put it out there that Michigan has somehow sent too many people to college. .  

  2. Had this story been about temp agencies, then your argument would be more appropriate — and that might be a good idea for a story.  However, this story was pointing out a trend that many companies are too uncertain about the economy to add full-time jobs, so they are resorting to temp employees.  No value judgment on whether that’s good or bad — it just is what’s happening.

  3. Hi Lorie (with an e),

    Thanks very much for the comment.  Your point is well taken.  I think everyone can agree that life as a temporary worker entails a lot more uncertainty — both financial and emotional — than life as a permanent worker.  I just want to point out that both staffing firms mentioned in this piece do offer health benefit plans to their temporary workers, at a weekly cost.  Staffing Inc. has a waiting period of 30 days before health coverage can begin.  Temps working with Advance Staffing Solutions can begin coverage immediately. 

    All the best,
    Kate Davidson

  4. did I miss something?  What kind of pay do these temp job employees earn?  Living wage or $8-9/hour?

    I know what my temp daughter made and it’s a good thing I haven’t rented out her room to someone else. lol – but not really.  Fortunately for her she’s not trying to raise a family just pay college expenses

  5. Kate

    Your story portrayed the light industrial sector of the temp
    staffing industry as a bright ray of hope in an otherwise dismal economy.   Perhaps it is for people whose skills and
    education credentials are marginal; they have so few options.

    It certainly is for
    companies that either have a hard time competing globally or who’ve just decided
    it’s more profitable to outsource their manufacturing labor instead of
    providing family sustaining jobs.

    I would argue that working at or near the minimum wage, without
    access to employer-subsidized health
    insurance, and with little job security, temp work in manufacturing is not a
    bright ray of opportunity, but rather another step in the race to the bottom
    where American workers ultimately lose their voice and dignity in the
    workplace.  This kind of temporary employment
    relationship is more appropriate for workers who need transitional employment
    assistance, like people going from welfare to work, prison to work, or drug rehab
    to work, rather than becoming a standard employment practice that effectively
    keeps working people poor.

    Free reigning temp work is great for employers who no longer
    can (or care to) build human capital in the workplace.  It’s also a great tool to help employers screen
    out potentially unsuitable employees (try before you hire, temp-to-perm, etc.).  

    It’s also a fabulous arrangement that allows customers
    of these temp help firms to feign plausible deniability for skirting employment law as they place discriminatory job orders with their temp suppliers for our nation’s most exploitable worker – the undocumented immigrant – who is well-represented in the manufacturing segment of the temp help industry in Chicago, and elsewhere around the country, I would suspect.

    It’s a troubling and sad story you’re reporting.  It shouldn’t be candy-coated.

  6. Kate, I find
    it interesting that all the comments to this
    article were negative on temporary positions.  I believe having these temporary jobs will increase our global competitiveness.   Using temporary
    employees is a common practice in Europe, Latin America and Asia.

    Sure, for a business
    there is a lot to gain.  You can adjust your
    operating capacity very quickly.  You can
    hire someone for a specific project or task without a long term commitment.  You have minimal training for these employees.  You expect them to bring their specialized
    skills to the job.

    For the employee,
    there are also benefits.  You can move on
    to a new job if this one doesn’t work for you. 
    You build your experience base and can lengthen a good resume with positive
    references.    In many cases, temporary workers
    are offered a permanent job.  You can use
    temporary work to transition from one permanent job to the next. 

    Regarding a “permanent job”, I believe no job is permanent in
    today’s world.   Product and process technologies are changing
    so fast, a person should not expect that their “job” will always exist.  This has been especially true for low skilled
    jobs but it now is now becoming more prevalent with skilled and professional
    jobs.  A person must continue their own development
    to ensure a long career.

  7. I work for a staffing company.  Can’t find skilled workers fast enough.  We don’t work on positions that pay less than $20/hr.  Crazy!

  8. As for the comments as being a temporary employee,affiliated with no less than 6 different agencies… I am still currently unemployed. The.catch22 in this Wendell is everyone benefits , the company ,the agencies, but not the worker. as for u.skilled… uneducated that’s not always the norm. I have attends college, am a single mom.of 3 kids, and becuz I spent most of my life raising them, I am shunned in the work place becuz my lack of “experience” and wen poorly trained by the company I am placed w then told my assignment is over, or injury becuz I was not properly trained in lifting or informed of weight of product thus causing injury, as soon as I was released for regular duty my assignment ended. stating it was my job performance wen not 2 wks prior I was getting rave reviews on my 30 day review and my 60 day review… temp agencies allow their “bread and.butter companies” to treat us like we r lower than dirt. as long as they make capital gains… no concern for the temp… or.their families…

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