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Are temp agencies a stepping stone or bottom feeders

PostPosted: Mon Sep 14, 2009 6:57 pm
by Emil Chuck
I really like this thread because I can pretty much assure you that very few (dare say "no one") thinks about their BS in a science field and how to work with temp agencies to get some foothold in a science industry position, even if it is a contract, temp position. I violate my own rules of thumb by asking this, but has SC ever written articles (or have we really discussed) on how to work with temp agencies to find out if one likes to transition into industry positions? I know we have talked a bit more about placement agents, but I don't know whether we talked about this here (aside from perhaps something Dave wrote).

Are temp agencies a stepping stone or bottom feeders

PostPosted: Mon Sep 14, 2009 7:48 pm
by Kevin Foley
I've hired a few temps in my career, usually to cover a maternity leave or because we needed additional hands and couldn't get approval to hire a full-time employee (FTE in industry speak) because of budget limitations or a hiring freeze. A temp seems to be accounted for differently, and if I had a good reason I could usually convince the powers that be to let us hire one (with the promise that it wouldn't turn into a FTE, although sometimes it eventually did).

It is a good way to "screen" candidates before hiring an FTE, although if I have an FTE opening, I'm going to use it now and not hire a temp. Budgets and head counts have a way of changing and "use it or loose it" applies. But I can see where a company would find temps appealing as a "scaleable" resource that doesn't require a long-term commitment, much like a CRO. But I think it would be challenging to have a workforce composed of many temps, since they would be very prone to leave as soon as you gave them additional training and a full-time position came along. I'd rather hire an FTE and have more of a long-term commitment.

All the temps I've hired had BS or MS degrees, no PhDs. In my experience, there seems to be few PhDs in temp positions in biotech. I can't really imagine hiring a PhD for a temp position, since most temp work is "do what I tell you, don't ask any too many questions, and crank out as much data as you can" sort of work, and a good PhD would be wasted on this. I can't say whether it would be a good way to get your foot in the industry door, but I do agree that you risk being typecast as a PhD that can't cut it if you stay in temp positions too long. But it may be a good way to pay the bills while you actively search for a better position. Even better if there is the possibility of going full-time at the company (although I would be careful with believing everything I was told).


Are temp agencies a stepping stone or bottom feeders

PostPosted: Wed Sep 16, 2009 1:22 pm
by Jim Gardner
I had my PhD when I was hired straight out of grad school by a temp agency and placed at a major pharmaceutical company. I started in medical writing (so this may not apply to lab positions). It was pretty routine for this Pharma company to use temps, even at the PhD level, because of the head-count freezes that were usually in place. My benefits were negligible, but I actually made more money than regular employees. Based on a 40-hour work week, my "base" salary was similar to a regular employee's salary, but I received 1.5 times my hourly wage for overtime (and my boss encouraged me to work as much overtime as I wanted--she was trying to prove a point to management that more permanent FTEs were needed).

The experience I gained as a "temp" medical writer allowed me to move on as a "permanent" to another large pharma company in less than half of a year. (I'm still at that company today 13 years later.)

My advice is to explore temping options, but to be picky about which assignments you accept. Try to find opportunities where there is something in it for you (besides money). Look to gain marketable experience and/or exposure to networking opportunities as the previous posters have suggested.

Good Luck!


Are temp agencies a stepping stone or bottom feeders

PostPosted: Wed Sep 16, 2009 2:38 pm
by Brianna Blaser
Emil -
Although neither is terribly recent, it does look like we've had a couple of articles on temping:
Joining a Trend, Scientists Increasingly Say ‘Call My Agent’
A Temp-ting Offer

Are temp agencies a stepping stone or bottom feeders

PostPosted: Wed Sep 16, 2009 11:56 pm
by Eric
In my opinion, temp labor is a "red flag" for me when considering potential employers. Reliance on temporary workers sends nothing but bad messages about the company's attitude towards employees and due diligence about selecting them. If a company does not even have the time or resources to screen and hire good employees on their own, then it makes one wonder what other critical aspects of their business they cannot competently perform themselves. Secondly, a company that is reliant on temp-to-hire (or temp-to-discard) is probably going to be likely to lay people off at the first sign of trouble. These kinds of companies mistake cost-cutting with making a profit and view employees mainly as a cumbersome expense to be disposed of quickly. They don't realize that you have to make good products and be innovative to make a profit...and that requires hiring good people for the long haul. Finally, in the worst case scenario, some companies just want cheap disposable labor, and I would suggest you avoid working for them even if you are desperate.

Are temp agencies a stepping stone or bottom feeders

PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2009 7:47 am
by Elsie
We are a very small company. We have had good success using temp agencies to fill our technician positions.

We do prefer to hire technicians without a temp agency, just because it's more expensive to use the temp agency, and also because it throws the employees off of the normal review schedule and makes it hard to figure out vacations and such. However, this last year we got suddenly and ridiculously very busy. When three of our technicians left to go to graduate school we just didn't have time to screen applications because we were busy! It happens sometimes...and the temp to hire solution was a life saver. We converted the technicians we got through the agency to regular employees as soon as was contractually possible.

We have no intention of laying anybody takes to darned long to train a technician and we like to have them around for at least two years. My company is small but a very good company to work for. When business did slow down over the summer we hired two new people...without the agency since we had time to screen applicants ourselves. We're using the down time to set up some new assays and get people cross trained.

Are temp agencies a stepping stone or bottom feeders

PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2009 8:57 am
by Rich Lemert
On the other hand, a company that "relies" on temp workers could also be one that values the employee/employer relationship so much that they want to make sure there is going to be enough work available so that they don't have to lay off any of their permanent employees. The fact is that there are many legitimate reasons for companies to use contract/temporary employees, so you do yourself a disfavor by making this a litmus test of their desirability as an employer. Sure, it's a factor that you need to consider, but it should not by itself be a deal-breaker.

Are temp agencies a stepping stone or bottom feeders

PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2009 12:30 pm
by Eric
Elsie and Rich,

I respect your opinions as talented and experienced industry folk, and I am not saying that hiring temps is not sometimes part of what healthy employers do for the right reasons. I am just seeing the other side of that coin. I am not saying I would completely dismiss a job opportunity with a company that uses temp labor, but it is a red flag for me in the sense that I would want to dig deeply into why they use temp labor. In fact, that would be one of my interview questions.

Also, as others have discussed in this thread, there is a difference between hiring MS/BS-level versus PhD-level people. I am coming from the PhD holder perspective I guess.

Are temp agencies a stepping stone or bottom feeders

PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2009 2:38 pm
by GHM

I started as a temp and eventually became full-time. It gave my company an opportunity to see if I was worth keeping on permanently, I suppose. Three months and I was hired. That was 14 years ago, though...definitely a different job market. Plus, I had a BS, not an MS.

In my company, we don't see MS or PhD candidates coming in as temps. We honestly reserve this for Associate or Bachelor-level science staff. It works out well when, for instance, a technician is out on medical leave, and we need that person's work completed.

You know, maybe it's just the stigma of "temp agencies" that is the problem. One usually sees them advertising for clerical/administrative or manual labor positions. I think it's novel to use them for science professionals, but I've not seen them used for anyone above a BS level education.

I do believe, though, that companies use temps to avoid additional cost burden associated with full time employee. It allows you to have someone on staff, just under the radar somewhat.


Are temp agencies a stepping stone or bottom feeders

PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2009 3:58 pm
by Kevin Foley

Have you actually encountered a company that doesn't hire temps? I haven't.

Unless you are talking about Microsoft, where I believe they were often criticized for having temps make up a very large percentage of their workforce, I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with hiring temps (and in their case it apparently made financial sense).

Companies hire temps because it is an easily scaleable workforce that doesn't require a long-term commitment of resources. Companies make a long-term commitment to employees when it makes business sense, and it often does, particularly for PhD-level positions. It usually doesn't make sense to hire and train a PhD as a temp, and then see them leave as soon as a full-time job comes along.

When it doesn't make business sense, temps can fill the gap. As was pointed out, temps are pretty expensive too. Let's not turn this into some sort of "only evil companies hire temps" discussion.

If we go down that road, we'll have to start criticizing companies for hiring CROs, which will lead us to off-shoring, and I really don't want to get into that politically sensitive topic!