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Archive for Sunday, October 17, 1993

HIGH DEMAND TURNS TEMPS INTO HOT COMMODITY

October 17, 1993

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Whether they do it as a labor of love or just for the money, employees of temporary placement agencies in Lawrence are in big demand.

Some ``temps'' say they prefer the flexibility and variety short-term placements offer. Others, who find themselves between jobs, say it's an easy way to pay the bills. Some even say it's an entre into a permanent job.

Whatever the motivation, managers of temporary agencies in Lawrence wish there were more of temporaries.

``There definitely are not enough people,'' said Nancy Slabaugh, branch manager for Manpower Temporary Services. ``We have more jobs than we have people to send to those jobs. Every day we have orders that go unfilled.''

Temporary agencies in Lawrence are scrambling to keep up with a trend that has swept the labor market nationwide. According to the National Association of Temporary Services, the average number of daily temporary employees jumped 17.3 percent, from 1.15 million in 1991, to 1.35 million in 1992. At the same time, the number of nonagricultural jobs in the overall labor market rose a scant 0.2 percent.

Gary Toebben, president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said the increase in demand for temps is a symptom of the cautiousness that pervades the business community. Although companies are eager to take on more business, they're reluctant to make commitments to additional permanent employees.

``Companies got caught in the recession with having more full-time employees than their business would justify,'' Toebben said. ``It doesn't feel good to have to lay off employees. No business wants to lay off employees.''

Although local demand for temps has risen with the national numbers, the Lawrence market doesn't break out along the same lines. For one, said Maxine Martin, who manages the Lawrence office of Interim Personnel, supply and demand in the Lawrence temp market is tied both to business cycles and the academic calendar.

She explained that Kansas University students seeking work swell the temporary work force during summer months. When school starts in the fall, the temporary labor pool shrinks. Unfortunately, Martin said, that's also when demand for temporaries pick up too.

Some agencies, such as Kelly Temporary Services Inc., operate offices in a number of cities and can draw on their data bases in neighboring communities. Diane Aaronson, Kelly's branch manager, said the agency often fills openings in Lawrence with workers from Topeka.

Another quirk in the local market is a preponderance of demand from light manufacturing employers. While the NATS said manufacturers accounted for 27.5 percent of the market for temporary services in 1992, managers of agencies in Lawrence peg the figure at 50 to 60 percent. Aaronson said the Topeka market conforms more closely to the national model, with clerical jobs representing about half of the agency's placements.

Eric Walther, human resources manager at Packer Plastics, said manufacturing firms are reluctant to boost permanent payrolls until they see how Clinton administration policies will affect them. However, Walther said Packer, which might bring on as many as 75 temps for a two- to three-week stint, has a seasonal production cycle.

Packer's need for temps increases, for example, when the company is turning out flower pots and picnic goods for the spring and summer market. However, Walther said the company's volume of work can't support that increased payroll year-round.

``Does it make sense for us to bring on someone for two or three weeks and then lay them off? It's counter-productive,'' he said.

``We don't utilize temps instead of full-time people when we can avoid it.''

Lynn Duncan, human resources manager at E and E Display Group, said the point-of-purchase display manufacturer also uses temps to satisfy seasonal production demand. However, E and E often resorts to temps when the lead time on a project isn't long enough to allow the company to do its own hiring.

``Probably the biggest advantage we see is that we can get help immediately when we need it,'' she said. ``We cannot hire 30 people for the next day. The market isn't out there. Lawrence has a very, very low unemployment rate.''

The high demand for temps to work in local factories doesn't mean that temps with clerical skills go begging. Although Sallie Mae, the Student Loan Marketing Assn., doesn't fall into the industrial category, it's one of the city's high-volume consumers of temporary services.

Elaine Nelson, the assistant vice president in charge of the Lawrence loan processing center, said the center uses 35 to 50 full-time equivalent temporaries to help out during its annual crunch time.

``We use them for a very specified time frame during the peak lending season,'' which runs roughly from June through October, she said. ``We really don't need that extra staff the rest of the year.''

Nelson said Sallie Mae sometimes feels the effects of the local shortage of temporary labor. ``The biggest problem is to find people who are available that entire period,'' she said. Because Sallie Mae needs temps beyond the start of the school year, KU students aren't eligible.

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