STAFFING AGENCIES: FRIEND or FOE?
Updated: May 13, 2019
STAFFING AGENCIES: FRIEND or FOE?
As a rule, I frequently perform job searches in the IT field in attempt to gauge the health of its employment market. Working as a contractor for a well-known staffing agency has taught me to keep my resume updated and to always expect the unexpected. In recent years the number of staffing agencies operating in the US has grown substantially. My own experiences with staffing and performing contract work through temp services has always started out well (with employment), but usually ends with me searching for another job or agency. The sad thing is that I’m never alone in this. There are always groups of us who are hired by the temp services (usually on the offer of possible, permanent employment), but when product sales or support needs changed only a few of the group were actually hired. The unfortunate remainder were sent to either file for unemployment, find another job or wait for the service to locate another suitable assignment.
Five long years were spent at my last temporary position in the IT department of a multi-national insurance corporation. The ad for the contract position said it would be possible temp-to-perm work. Roughly 30 other contract workers were hired under the same contract and placed in the clients training queue. When all was said and done there were a little over 700 contact workers at this company in varied positions. During my 5 years there, I received numerous certificates of achievement, tons of kudos from the client’s customers, and trained many of the new contract workers. After about 3 years I noticed that some of the workers I had trained had been placed in permanent positions. Meanwhile I was still only a temp! Coworkers who were already permanent employees began asking, “Dang the haven’t hired you yet? What the hell are the waiting for?” Embarrassment and a nauseating shame washed over me every time I was subjected to this. Let’s face it, if you are a temporary employee, you are relocated to a lower level than permanent workers in the company hierarchy. Everyone you work with knows that as a temp you are required to perform the same duties for less pay and normally without benefits. Of course, some staffing agencies do offer benefits, but accepting them as a temporary worker is a risky decision. Benefits still must be paid for!
Suddenly a paradigm shift occurred. One of the company’s main locations was closed, causing 3,000 permanent employees to be without jobs. News travels fast and bad news even faster. Soon the rumors made their way into my building and up to my floor. The company would be ending the contract for all remaining temps and dividing the newly-terminated, permanent employees between our location and another hub. One twenty-minute meeting and 5 years of loyalty were rewarded with a fresh set of walking papers. Many of the employees who were rehired had not been with the company as long as I had been under contract with them. Was I angry? You better believe it! The client’s managers all attended what was to be our final meeting there. They gave out hugs (condolences) and tried apologizing for the situation we were facing. I've heard some financial advisers and economist tout this lack of stability as independence and an exciting new employment trend. I wonder what perspective they are speaking from. For me nothing beats stability when it comes to my money! It is like the corporation owners and the temp services got together to undermine the worker. After all, who is gaining and who is losing in this staffing equation? If employers really respected the investment made to their companies by their employees, they would have to actually share a larger portion of the profits with these workers. An occasional food day or company outing simply would not suffice and should be a laughable, weak attempt. This is equivalent to what elementary schools do to entertain school kids! If the worker accepts such treatment then he undermines his own investment in the profits. There can be no profit without the labor to produce the products that are sold to consumers. There can be no board of directors if there are no workers. Not to even mention that the staffing agency really should not even be viable in this equation that involves the corporation, the work, and the worker. So how did the staffing agencies even barge their way into the equation? They showed the heads of industry that they could alter this equation so that the companies increase profits and the workers become just a faceless part of the work to be done. The worker is the most important part of any industry!
Now I find myself in the same situation at a different corporation. So, I decided to run a quick experiment of my own. Pulling up the job search site that I use most, I performed a search for open IT positions. Hundreds of results popped up as expected. Then I filtered the results to show permanent offers only. Incredibly the number of results decreased from hundreds to about 29. SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG WITH THIS! My experiment led me to research more about the history of staffing agencies and how they have transitioned into the modern-day version. While I did find lots of sites listing the pros and cons associated with using temp services, most of the sites were employers’ sites. Furthermore, information discussed on the sites were the pros and cons associated with whether client companies should use staffing services for their hiring and HR functions. Hardly any of them covered the topic from the point-of-view of the temporary employees.
I find myself longing for a return to the days when a hiring corporation was interested in the actual candidate becoming a part of their corporate family. Now it seems that companies are only interested in cutting overhead cost and increasing bottom line . . . even if it is proving detrimental to most of the workers in the end. Used to be that an employer had work to be done and solicited workers with certain character traits and skills to handle the work. They demonstrated trust for the candidate by offering an actual position with their company. The candidate would then return that trust by being prompt and in compliance for a 90-day period (gestation). The worker then became a stable, permanent component of a business machine. With the flood of staffing agencies in the US the work to be done is valued now more than the people doing the work. This is putting the cart before the horse in my opinion. Corporations can hire far more workers than is necessary to push a product or complete a project faster, but once the work is done the employee loses value. The worker should be placed at a higher value than the work. A pile of lumber is only a pile of wood until workers transform the pile into a product to be sold. The wood cannot process itself, however, the employees have no employment without the wood needing to be processed. As humans we should always value the human component as much or more than the work. GREED can cause us to lose this perspective. You would think that this is common sense and yet we still allow ourselves to be exploited as workers. Why? Big corporations spend millions on media campaigns designed to create certain social norms that simply are not based in truth. "You should be happy to have a job" or "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" are just a few products of these media directives. This falsely teaches us that we should be so thankful that a company is giving us the honor of generating profits for them. If no one went to work tomorrow, what do you think would become of America's precious billionaire CEO's? Do you really think that the owner and the board are willing to pull off the thousand-dollar suits to apply their own elbow grease? Having work to be done means that you need workers just as much as workers need to work . . . mutuality. You can spin it, lie about it , change the social norms, and this will still remain true. The American government and the world's captains of industry have become wicked partners in the abuse of those citizens living at or below the poverty line. Whether this is intentional or just a natural part of any economic system matters little. The fact that the millions spent on mind-altering, misleading ad campaigns is not instead spent on repairing this enslaving aspect of capitalism, shows even less respect for the laborer. The all-important television programming, and the way we are taught to think in this country has been a controlled and consorted effort since its inception. We are sold dreams (the American Dream), and trained to be unintelligent consumers who are no longer truly free-thinking. Even the ideal of the so-called American Dream has been changed from a family, a car and a house with a picket fence to a mansion on 10 acres, and a Benz. When most of us have less than our grandparents and parents did. Try turning off your television for 2 weeks. Just to see is you control your thinking or social norms. I put this almost effortless challenge to over 3,000 of my Facebook friends at the same time the ice bucket challenge was so popular. Of that 3,000 only 4 of my friends accepted that challenge. GREED has transformed America into a nation of hapless followers.
The American version of the staffing industry was started just after World War II began. Small agencies popped up in urban areas employing housewives for part-time office roles. Employers were attracted to the idea of having workers who could be hired on short notice and dispatched just as quickly. Most of all they liked that these workers did not need paperwork and had few if any regulatory requirements. Temporary workers comprised a meager portion of the American labor force during this era. The typical "temps" of this time period were white women who filled in for permanent workers who were sick, vacationing or absent for other reasons.
Soon after this period the notion of what temps should be used for began to change. Instead of being strictly replacement for absent, permanent workers, they were now seen as a normal alternative to permanent work. Employers could then use them in newly created positions and projects that were short-term and expected to be eliminated once the projects were completed. This is when we see the value of the work start to supersede the value of the worker. The only way for workers to reclaim their true value would be for them to stop accepting anything that employers offer them. Imagine if everyone, or even a great enough number of workers stopped accepting temporary work. Then offering permanent work would be the only means by which they could continue receiving their massive profits. Corporations know this also so they keep a great amount of fear working in their favor. Fear has been used to control masses of people since the beginning of time. When early proletarian movements would no longer give in to the fear of being unemployed, armies and assassins were sent in to murder the opposition. That fear is so ingrained in us now-a-days that corporations lose no sleep in regard to immoral actions. The modern-day worker is essentially unaware of his true value, not consolidated enough to engage in healthy employment dialogue, and believes he is surely in no position financially to rock the boat. Why do you think that something as uneventful as discussing your salary with coworkers is against company regulations and will get you terminated?
Deregulation was the final phase in this questionable transformation of the staffing agency's role in what was then deemed as part of economic restructuring. This partnership between corporations and temp services was never mean to include the temp worker as an equal partner although they are major stakeholders. In my opinion deregulation does not work in favor of the worker . . . ever! It removes systems of checks and balances put in place to keep abuses from occurring in industries. Also it allows for the removal of disciplines designed to ensure that moral character remains an integral part of business models. We learn this lesson over and over and yet somehow still allow slick-talking, charismatic figureheads to convince us to consider that it has merit. Restrictions on staffing services vary worldwide, but I have seen none that truly value the workers equally with the corporations and agencies.
Now economists and captains of industry are trying to convince us that this so-called gig economy is something we should be applauding. We are constantly reassured that this new form of employment will transform us into entrepreneurs and we can be our own bosses. First of all the gig economy, like all things under the sun, is not a new concept. We are simply revisiting the same work style that was prevalent prior to the industrial revolution. You are neither an entrepreneur nor your own boss if the corporation decides your position in the company. Stop believing the spin!
There are a few bright spots developing in this confusing economic quandary as of late. A new worker revolution is rising in resistance to abuses being suffered by temporary and migrant workers. More people are awakening everyday who are informed, educated employees and consumers. These people are grouping themselves together and taking stands against abuses like wage disparities and unethical treatment of temporary and migrant workers. Along with these movements, the US Department of Labor is initiating small steps that I believe will have a large impact on the future of the modern staffing agency. Staffing agencies used in the proper context can be a good thing, but never as a tool that devalues the worker. We must unlearn the social norms that have allowed us to value the work over the worker and relearn our value as human beings. Most of all we must not allow fear to enslave us! Our ancestors' sacrifices and pains are how we got here today. We cannot afford to become lackadaisical, complacent and fearful. We must not become subservient to the power brokers who attain their power from our labor.
I hope that this at least causes you to investigate further. Research and recourse are key! There is no paradise without sacrifice! I am adding some additional links that will help you to understand and take a stand! If you have anything to add or any experiences you wish to share, please comment. We look forward to hearing your story. POWER UP!
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SPEAK YOUR MIND!