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Temp work up as economy declines

Posted: September 6, 2009 9:13 p.m.
Updated: September 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Applicant Tabatha Williams is interviewed by Joanna Brison at Sage Staffing in Valencia on Tuesday. Local staffing agencies are seeing an upturn in demand for temporary and contract jobs after a major two-year decline.

 
After Valencia resident Keyma Roberts, 35, was laid off from her job, she couldn't afford to renew her car registration.

So, for four months, she stayed home with her 5-year-old daughter as her husband struggled to make ends meet. But in August, she got a break: a local temporary worker agency found a position for her.

Roberts now works as a temp-to-hire employee at Audiology Associates in Valencia. She's one of many Santa Clarita Valley residents who has benefited from a recent uptick in jobs in the employment services industry after a drastic plummet in the market from the recession.

Employment service jobs in Los Angeles County are starting to stabilize following a major two-year decline, and demand for temporary and contract jobs are increasing on a national scale, experts said.

Meanwhile, local staffing agencies are also seeing an upturn after major declines in business.

Sage Staffing, which helped Roberts land her job, has felt the pangs of recession over the past couple of years as local employers have had less jobs to offer.

"A lot of (temp) has shored up," said Beverly Malin, vice president of client services at Sage Staffing. "A lot of that has tightened up and (companies are) having co-workers replace vacations, and companies are making due with who they have instead of adding for a short-term work increase."

Malin estimated that the 22-year-old agency's sales are at about 45 to 50 percent of what they were last year. She also estimates that there are about twice as many returning temps who were laid off or unable to find permanent work.

Managers at other local agencies say their businesses have also suffered.

Patty Campochiaro, co-owner of Personnel Plus with offices is Valencia and Granada Hills, said her agency's sales dropped by about 35 to 40 percent since the end of last year. AppleOne Employment Services has also suffered with lower revenues, said branch manager Heidi Haen.

The employment agency administrators report that they have resorted to tackling more aggressive marketing tactics, such as increased calls to businesses, mailers, Web site banner ads and networking, in order to remain competitive.

Hope for recovery
But a new glimmer of hope has surfaced for the Santa Clarita Valley agencies in recent months as the economy starts to pick up slightly.

"It's starting to feel a recovery," Malin said of the agency's business. "In June there was higher activity, and then July continued to be fine, but August has definitely been better."

At Sage Staffing, sales increased by 12 percent from July to August and by a total of 15 percent from May to August, Malin said.

Campochiaro said Personnel Plus' business has picked up by 5 percent to 10 percent during the past two months. Haen reported AppleOne Employment Services is now seeing more temps hired, and even more direct hires.

Employment agency administrators and economic researches say the change is due to economic improvements on a broader scale as the nation gets closer to the end of the recession.

"We're watching this sector right now because we feel businesses are feeling very cautious," said Jack Kyser, founding economist for Kyser Center of Economic Research at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

"If they start to see a little bit more business, they will work their existing work force longer hours, and then they might bring in a temp or two with the idea that if business suddenly slows again, they can cut temp assignments," Kyser continued. "So, it's sort of an indicator to us of the local economy."

The employment services sector in Los Angeles County, which includes temp jobs, had its all-time peak in 2006 when the county had 119,200 workers in this area, Kyser said. But that number dwindled in 2007 to 117,600 workers and has declined consistently since then. In July, the total was 83,300.

But while the news may sound negative, Kyser said there is improvement because major declines in the county stopped in May and have remained relatively stable since then.

"That's a positive sign because people are starting to hear from various sources that business is starting to stabilize, and people are starting to feel a little bit better about what's going on," Kyser said.

He added that Los Angeles County numbers mirror the national trend since it is one of the U.S. counties with the highest number of employment and the largest business establishments.

Local impact
The news is even more positive for Santa Clarita.

"Santa Clarita's doing a lot better than the county as a whole because you do have a diversified economic base," Kyser said. "You have some (biomedical) activity, some high-tech (companies), you have filming activity, and then what you call general office space users. So, Santa Clarita's holding up better than the county as a whole and other areas of the county."

Another differences between Santa Clarita and the county as a whole is evident in its unemployment rates. Santa Clarita had a 7 percent unemployment rate in June, while Los Angeles County's rate was 11.4 percent and the state's rate was 11.6 percent.

The American Staffing Association, a group that claims its members account for 85 percent of U.S. staffing industry sales, has also reported improvements in the employment services industry.

A press release by the association last week reported that America's staffing companies employed an average of 1.9 million temporary and contract workers per day from April through June, which is 3.5 percent lower than the in first quarter of this year and 30.2 percent lower than in the second quarter of 2008. However, it also reported that massive quarter-to quarter job losses have "markedly slowed."

Other data from the association's Web site showed that demand for temporary and contract employees increased significantly from July to August. The association's used its staffing index number, which indicates how well the industry performed against a national employment statistics, to measure the improvements.

The index increased from 71 to 76 - the highest number this year - from early July to late August over the period of seven weeks, a larger jump than seen in recent years, according to the association data.

The index number, which counted out of a scale of 100, is low compared to its score of 96 last year, but it is an improvement from the association's low of 69 in December.

For Roberts, the turnaround of temp jobs was nothing but help. With her new local job at Audiology Associates, she has her more time to spend with her family. Instead of getting home at 7 p.m., she now gets home around 5:45 to cook dinner and help her daughter with homework.

Roberts expects her job to be a permanent worker after her 90-day trial with the company, which recently hired her and two other temp workers through Sage Staffing. Roberts said sometimes it just takes perseverance and the willingness to try out temporary positions while also keeping long-term goals in mind.

"It may take a little more time, but what you're looking for will eventually come your way," Roberts said. "You might have to try a couple out."

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