Temporary Employment: An Emerging Alternative for College Graduates

Article excerpt

Employers facing rapid changes in the business environment and college graduates facing a tough job market can each benefit from temporary employment services. No longer is temporary work primarily secretarial or administrative; professional positions are increasingly available. Based on survey results, temporary agencies could recruit college graduates more effectively by taking certain steps: harnessing the internet; reinforcing positive perceptions about temporary work; offering flexible work option; providing in-house computer training opportunities; and becoming more involved in college career-services activities.


Reflecting the sluggish economy and increasing unemployment rate (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2002), college graduates are facing one of the tightest job markets in years. In fact, the number of positions available to graduates decreased more than 36% from 2000 to 2001 (Mattingly, 2002). And, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (2002), this trend will continue as jobs for graduates are expected to decline an additional 3.6% from 2002 to 2003. Indeed, a number of recent graduates are opting to work in internships for little or no compensation just to gain some experience that will enhance their resume and make them appear more marketable (Lingle, 2002). Increasingly, however, college graduates are turning to the temporary employment industry as a viable alternative (Wethe, 2000).

Past research into the temporary employment industry has focused primarily on employees who are already employed as temporary workers. For example, Feldman, Doerpinghaus, and Turnley (1995) surveyed 186 temporary workers about the effects of various demographics and work arrangements on different dimensions of satisfaction. Additionally, Newton (1996) examined responses from 199 temporary workers on issues such as why they selected temporary work, their commitment to the client, and the benefits they received from the temporary agency. Because recent college graduates are increasingly turning to temporary employment for the first time, it is now critical to examine this group of potential employees more closely.

Therefore, the focus of this study was to gain some insight into how today's college student perceives the temporary employment industry.

The Appeal of Temporary Employment

College graduates today may find the temporary employment industry an attractive option for a number of reasons. First, some graduates may view it as a way to gain permanent employment within a firm. And, there may be some basis for this perception. According to the American Staffing Association, about 90% of firms have used temporary employment services (Wethe, 2000) and 72% of temporary employees eventually go on to permanent positions (Berchem, 2002).

Second, the changing nature of the temporary employment industry may lead to more positive perceptions among today's college graduates. Historically, temporary employment was viewed primarily as an alternative for firms needing administrative and clerical workers (Wethe, 2000), or as an industry providing work only for low-wage, low-skilled workers (Prestegard, 1999). Today, however, temporary staffing firms place a wide range of professional positions including accountants, attorneys, and physicians (Allen, 2002). Therefore, it is likely that today's college graduate views temporary employment as a viable outlet for young professionals.

Third, temporary employment may allow graduates to experience different occupations without making permanent commitments (Feldman, Doerpinghaus, and Turnley, 1994). Graduates in many fields today are faced with an extremely limited job market where competition for positions is intense. They may feel that other occupations may provide more opportunities. Temporary employment agencies provide a way for students to gain practical experience in a variety of fields and discover if a particular occupation has long-term appeal. …