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High-Tech Temps in Demand

According to the Wall Street Journal, technology has given the temp industry a multibillion-dollar shot in the arm. High-tech temp services have grown from a $2.2 billion industry in 1991 to a $4.9 billion one this past year.

Regardless of their product or service, companies are feeling overwhelming pressure to automate. As a result, many are turning to temp agencies to find people with the technological skills they lack.

This new focus has revolutionized the temporary service industry. In the past, temp work was almost completely office and clerical, and temp workers often hoped to gain permanent employment from their placements.

Today's high-tech temp market has become an attractive alternative to traditional employment. As a result, workers with various "in demand" technical skills don't necessarily need permanent employment to get good wages and steady work they enjoy.

According to Joe Brown, national technical recruiter for Kelly Professional and Technical Services, temp work "is the way of the future." Temps with a variety of skills such as software customization, CD-ROM production, computer animation, programming and information technology (IT) are in high demand and will continue to be "right into the next century."

Whether they're hired to be educators, short-term support personnel or project developers, temps fill an important liaison role between companies and the ever-changing world of technology. Potential employers range from film companies to cutting-edge biomedical research firms, and the list is still growing.

For employers, temps represent high quality workers who don't need company training time. In many cases, bringing in temps for high-tech projects is absolutely necessary for employers who can't offer their staff the required training.

Pay for technical temps depends on a variety of factors, but a person with highly specialized skills and previous experience can count on hourly wages starting at $25. More difficult tasks can up wages to several hundred dollars an hour.

The percentage of projects that pay top dollar is small, but the percentage of the American workforce that can do these jobs is equally small. According to economics professor Lars Osberg, a relatively small portion of the population has the high technology skills to do these jobs. The temp market may be competitive, but it is still relatively open, allowing motivated, knowledgeable people to take on high paying projects.

As technological advances quickly shrink our world, they also guarantee the transferability of high-tech skills. For a temp with good communication and language abilities in addition to high-tech skills, there are a variety of exciting opportunities.

While the high-tech temp industry has many advantages, one concern that Osberg raises is the potential lack of incentive for company loyalty. Osberg sees this breakdown in employer-employee relations as potentially damaging to both companies and individuals.

In Osberg's opinion, companies need dedicated employees now more than ever to be successful. To win loyalty, companies need to invest in their employees on a professional and personal level. By offering decent benefits packages, company savings plans, ongoing education and recreation programs, companies will see more motivated employees than companies that have a temporary workforce.

One could argue, however, that high-tech temp work offers its own benefits. Changing work environments offers variety (and the possibility of foreign travel), and some temps get to work at home on their own computers for certain projects. Temps may have to set up their own health and savings programs, but they usually don't lack for money to do so.

The first step towards becoming a high-tech temp? "Education," says Brown, pointing out that potential employers look for temps who have graduated from computer schools or accredited computer science programs.

Different educational programs require different amounts of time and money, so it's important to research carefully before you commit to one. A program that has strong ties to industry will ensure that your skills are both practical and up to date for the type of high-tech temp work you want to do.

Also important is the ability to learn fast. Engineer James MacLean has done a variety of short- and long-term projects related to image processing. He says that although "tremendous opportunities have arisen for people with computer skills," remaining current and being adaptable is essential.

"You will almost always find that you are learning new things, even within your area of expertise," says MacLean. Obviously, it's people who use newly gained knowledge and experience to their advantage that succeed in this type of work.

For those people already using their technology skills in the workforce, the transition to temp work can be relatively easily. Brown stresses that they're not the only ones who are successful in this fiercely competitive field. Students from good educational programs and anyone who can demonstrate that they have technical knowledge and practical skills will also find work.

To some extent, the scale you want to work on will determine the skills you need. If your interest is helping people install home computers (the hottest selling consumer appliance) in your neighborhood, your knowledge base will be quite different from people setting up databases around the world for international companies.

Ours is a technological age. Computer literacy is becoming a must for basic employability, but firms will always find it expensive and time consuming to keep their entire staff up with the latest developments.

Whether or not technical temp services replace in-house technical departments in the future remains to be seen. It is a certainty, however, that firms will continue to hire people with the latest skills to keep them competitive within their own fields. High-tech temps will always have opportunities. It's just a matter of snapping them up.


Talent Tree Staffing Services
Information on high-tech training programs

National Association of Colleges and Employers
A bridge between higher education and the world of work linking headhunters, search firms and temp agencies

Technical Temps Inc.

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