Although many people associate the employment services industry with temporary employment opportunities for clerical workers,
the industry matches millions of people with jobs, providing both temporary and permanent employment to individuals with a wide
variety of education and managerial and professional work experience. Occupations in the industry range from secretary to
computer systems analyst, and from general laborer to nurse. In addition to temporary jobs in these occupations, permanent
positions in the industry include workers such as employment
interviewers and marketing
representatives who help assign and place workers in jobs. Nearly half of all jobs in employment services are at large establishments
with 250 or more workers (chart 1).
The employment services industry has three distinct segments.
Employment placement agencies list employment vacancies and place permanent employees. Temporary help services,
also referred to as temporary staffing agencies, provide employees to other organizations, on a contract basis and for a limited period,
to supplement the workforce of the client. Professional employer organizations are engaged in providing human resources and
human resources management services to staff client businesses. They also assign workers to client locations, thereby assuming responsibility
as an employer while providing a cost-effective approach to the management and administration of the human resources functions of its clients
on a contract basis.
The typical employment placement agency has a relatively small permanent staff, usually fewer than 10 workers,
who interview jobseekers and try to match their qualifications and skills to those being sought by employers for specific job openings.
In contrast to the smaller employment agencies, temporary help agencies typically employ many more workers.
Temporary help services firms provide temporary employees to other businesses to support or supplement their workforce in
special situations, such as employee absences, temporary skill shortages, and varying seasonal workloads.
Temporary workers are employed and paid by the temporary help services firm but are contracted out to a client for either a
prearranged fee or an agreed hourly wage. Some companies choose to use temporary workers full time on an ongoing basis,
rather than employ permanent staff, who typically would receive greater salaries and benefits. As a result, the overwhelming
majority of workers in the temporary help services segment of the employment services industry are temporaries; relatively
few are permanent staff.
Professional employer organizations specialize in performing a wide range of human resource and
personnel management duties for their client businesses, including payroll processing, accounting, benefits administration,
recruiting, and handling labor relations. Employee leasing establishments, which are a type of professional employer
organization, typically acquire and lease back some or all of the employees of their clients and serve as the employer
of the leased employees for payroll, benefits, and related purposes.
Traditionally, firms that placed permanent employees
usually dealt with highly skilled applicants, such as lawyers or accountants, and those
placing temporary employees dealt with less skilled workers, such as administrative support occupations. However, temporary
help services firms increasingly place workers who have a range of educational backgrounds and work experience because
businesses now are turning to temporary employees to fill all types of positionsfrom administrative to managerial,
financial, professional, and production.
The average annual work week in the employment services industry was about 32.6 hours in 2002, compared with the average of 33.9
hours across all industries. The low average work week reflects the fact that a temporary employee could work 40 or more hours a week on a
contract for an extended period and then take a few weeks off from work. Most full-time temporary workers put in 35 to 40 hours a
week, while some work longer hours. Permanent employees in employment agencies usually work a standard 40-hour week, unless seasonal
fluctuations require more or fewer hours.
Workers employed as permanent staff of employment agencies, temporary help services firms,
or professional employer organizations usually work in offices and may meet numerous people daily. Temporaries work in a variety of
environments and often do not stay in any one place long enough to settle into a personal workspace or establish close relationships
with coworkers. Most assignments are of short duration because temporaries may be called to replace a worker who is ill or on vacation
or to help with a short-term surge of work. However, assignments of several weeks or longer occasionally may be offered. On each
assignment, temporary employees may work for a new supervisor.
Employment as a temporary is attractive to many. The opportunity for a
short-term source of income while enjoying flexible schedules and an ability to take extended leaves of absence is well-suited to students,
persons juggling job and family responsibilities, those exploring various careers, and those seeking permanent positions in a chosen career.
Firms try to accommodate workers’ preferences for particular days or hours of work and for frequency or duration of assignments. Temporary
work assignments provide an opportunity to experience a variety of work settings and employers, to sharpen skills through practice, and to
learn new skills. Nevertheless, many workers in temporary assignments would prefer the stability and greater benefits associated with full-time work.
The annual injury and illness rate for the employment services industry as a whole was 3.6 cases for every 100 full-time workers in 2002, lower than the rate of 5.3 for the entire private sector. Temporary workers in industrial occupations often perform work that is more strenuous and potentially more dangerous, so they may have a higher rate of injury and illness.
The employment services industry provided 3.2 million jobs in 2002, about 2.2 million of them in temporary help services firms.
Professional employer organizations employed 790,000 and employment placement agencies employed another 281,000.
Although about 36,000 of the 62,000 establishments in the industry are temporary help services firms, they employ 2 out of 3 industry workers.
Employment in the employment services industry is distributed throughout the United States.
Workers are somewhat younger than those in other industries44 percent of employment services workers are under 35,
compared with 36 percent of all workers, reflecting the large number of clerical and other entry-level positions in the industry
that require little formal education.
The employment services industry encompasses many fields, from office and administrative support occupations to professional and
production occupations (table 1). In general, occupations in the industry include the permanent staff of employment services firms,
and the variety of occupations supplied through the temporary help services segment of the industry and the professional employer organizations.
The staff of employment service agencies is responsible for the daily operation of the firm. Many of these workers are in management,
business, and financial, and sales occupations, which together account for only about 7 percent of jobs in this industry.
Managers ensure that the agency is run effectively, and they often conduct interviews of potential clients and jobseekers.
Employment, recruitment, and placement specialists recruit and evaluate applicants and attempt to match them with client firms.
Most work in the personnel supply services industry. Sales workers actively pursue new client firms and recruit qualified workers.
Because of fierce competition among agencies, marketing and sales work at times can be quite stressful.
About 3 in 10 workers in this industry
are in office and administrative support jobs. These positions may be either temporary or permanent. Experience in office and administrative
support occupations usually is preferred for these jobs, although some persons take special training to learn skills such as bookkeeping and
Receptionists greet visitors, field telephone calls, and perform assorted office functions.
Secretaries perform a growing range of tasks, such as keyboarding and answering the telephone, depending on the
type of firm in which they work. Medical secretaries make appointments and need a familiarity with common medical
terms and procedures; legal secretaries must be familiar with the format of common legal documents.
General office clerks file documents, type reports, and enter computer data.
File clerks classify and store office information and records.
Data entry keyers type information into a computer data base, either through a personal computer or directly into a
mainframe computer. Word processors and typists enter and format drafts of documents
using typewriters or computers.
Bookkeeping clerks compute, classify, and record transaction data for financial
records and reports.
Production occupations and transportation and
material moving occupations
together account for 40 percent of employment in the employment services industry. Many of these jobs seldom require education
beyond high school, although related work experience may be preferred for some. Others require significant experience and on-the-job
training. Highly skilled assemblers and fabricators may assemble and connect parts of electronic devices,
while those who are less skilled work on production lines, continually repeating the same operation. Helpers perform a variety of
mostly unskilled tasks. Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers transport goods to and from storage areas in
either factories, warehouses, or other businesses. Hand packers and packagers wrap, package, inspect, and label materials manually,
often keeping records of what has been packed and shipped.
A growing number of temporary workers are specialized professional and related
workers, who currently account for another 9 percent of employment. Professional and related occupations include a variety of specialists and
practitioners, some of whom require many years of postsecondary education to qualify for their positions. For example,
lawyers or attorneys generally need 4 years of college and 3 years of law school.
They act as advisors, providing counsel on legal rights and obligations and suggesting particular courses of action in business.
Computer programmers write, test, and maintain the detailed instructions, called programs or software
that computers must follow to perform their functions. Other computer specialists include computer support specialists, who provide
technical assistance, support, and advice to customers and users. Licensed practical nurses provide basic bedside care to patients.
Registered nurses administer medication, tend to patients, and advise patients and family members about
procedures and proper care. They usually work in hospitals, but they may be assigned to private duty in patients’ homes.
Service workers employed on a temporary basis also include a number of healthcare support occupations.
Home health aides usually work in the home of an elderly or ill patient, allowing the patient to stay at home instead
of being institutionalized. Becoming a home health aide generally does not require education beyond high school.
Nursing aides and orderlies also seldom need education beyond high school, but employers do prefer previous experience.
These workers assist nurses with patient care in hospitals and nursing homes.
The remainder of the workers in this industry includes those
in farming, fishing, and forestry and installation, maintenance, and repair occupations.
Table 1. Employment of wage and salary workers in employment services by occupation, 2002 and
projected change, 2002-2012. (Employment in thousands)
Percent change,2002- 2012
Management, business, and financial occupations
Human resources, training, and labor relations specialists
Professional and related occupations
Architecture and engineering occupations
Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses
Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants
Food preparation and serving related occupations
Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners
Sales and related occupations
Office and administrative support occupations
Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks
Customer service representatives
Receptionists and information clerks
Stock clerks and order fillers
Executive secretaries and administrative assistants
Secretaries, except legal, medical, and executive
Data entry keyers
Office clerks, general
Construction and extraction occupations
Construction trades and related workers
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations
Assemblers and fabricators
Metal workers and plastic workers
Packaging and filling machine operators and tenders
Transportation and material moving occupations
Driver/sales workers and truck drivers
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand
Packers and packagers, hand
NOTE: May not add to totals due to omission of occupations with small employment.
The employment services industry offers opportunities in many occupations for workers with a variety of skill levels and experience.
The majority of temporary jobs still require only graduation from high school or the equivalent, while some permanent jobs, such
as those in management, may require a bachelor’s or higher degree. In general, the training requirements of temporary workers
mirror those for permanent employees in the economy as a whole. As the industry expands to include various professional and
managerial occupations, therefore, a growing number of jobs will require professional or advanced degrees.
Many temporary help services firms offer skills training to newly hired employees to make them more marketable.
This training often is provided free to the temporary worker and is an economical way to acquire training in important
skills such as word processing. Agency training policies vary, so persons considering temporary work should ask firms
what training they offer and at what cost.
Advancement as a temporary employee usually takes the form of pay
increases or greater choice of jobs. More often, temporaries transfer to full-time jobs with other employers.
Turnover among temporaries within help supply firms usually is very high because few choose to work as temporaries
for long; many accept offers to work full time for clients for whom they worked as temporaries. Some experienced
temporaries may be offered permanent jobs with help firms, either as receptionists or in positions screening or training
others for temporary jobs.
Staff of employment placement agencies and permanent staff of temporary help services
firms typically are employment interviewers, administrative support workers, or managers.
The qualifications required of employment interviewers depend partly on the occupations
that the employment placement agency or temporary help services firm specializes in placing. For example, agencies
that place professionals, such as accountants or nurses, usually employ interviewers
with college degrees in similar fields. Agencies specializing in placing administrative support workers, such as
secretaries or word processors, are more likely to hire interviewers with less education,
but who have experience in those occupations. Staff of professional employer organizations include professionals in human
resources management, payroll, risk management, legal services, financial management, employment compliance, and administration.
Although administrative support occupations, such as receptionists, usually do not require formal education beyond high school,
related work experience may be needed. Sometimes, staff experienced in administrative support occupations advance to employment
interviewer positions. Most managers have college degrees; an undergraduate degree in personnel management or a related field
is the best preparation for these jobs. Employment, recruitment, and placement specialists often advance to managerial positions,
but seldom without a bachelor’s degree.
In 2003, earnings among nonsupervisory workers in employment services firms were $13.04 per hour and $425 per week,
lower than the $14.95 an hour and $506 a week for all private industry.
Earnings vary as widely as the range of skills and
formal education among workers in employment services. As in other industries, managers and professionals earn more than clerks
and laborers. Also, temporaries usually earn less than workers employed as permanent staff, but some experienced temporaries
make as much as or more than workers in similar occupations in other industries. Earnings in the largest occupations in employment
services appear in table 2.
Table 2. Median hourly earnings of the largest occupations in employment services, 2002
Secretaries, except legal, medical,
Customer service representatives
Data entry keyers
Receptionists and information clerks
Office clerks, general
Packaging and filling machine operators
Laborers and freight, stock, and
material movers, hand
Packers and packagers, hand
Most permanent workers receive basic benefits; temporary workers usually do not receive such benefits unless they work a minimum number of
hours or days per week to qualify for benefit plans. Less than 3 percent of workers in employment services are union members or are covered
by union contracts, compared with about 15 percent of workers in all industries combined.
Employment services ranks among the fastest growing industries in the Nation and is expected to be among those that provide the most new jobs.
The industry is expected to gain about 1.8 million new jobs over the 2002-12 projection period. Wage and salary employment in the employment
services industry is expected to grow 54 percent over this period, more than 3 times the 16-percent growth projected for all industries combined.
Growth in demand for temporary employees fueled the expansion of the industry throughout the 1990s and is attributable to a number of factors.
As competition increased, businesses sought new ways to make their staffing patterns more responsive to changes in demand. To achieve this,
they hired temporary employees with specialized skills to reduce costs and to provide the necessary knowledge or experience in certain types
of work. Despite recent industry job losses, increasing demand for flexible work arrangements and schedules, coupled with significant turnover
in these positions, should create plentiful job opportunities for persons who seek jobs as temporaries or contract workers through 2012.
In particular, suppliers of medical personnel to hospitals and other medical facilities should continue to fare well, as demand for
temporary healthcare staffing grows to meet the needs of aging baby boomers and to supplement demand for more healthcare services
throughout the country.
Employment in professional employer organizations also grew rapidly during the 1990s in response
to demands by businesses for changes in human resources management. The increasing complexity of employee-related laws and
regulations and a desire to control costs, reduce risks, and provide more integrated services spurred more businesses to contract
with professional employer organizations to handle their personnel management, health benefits, workers’ compensation claims,
payroll, tax compliance, and unemployment insurance claims. This trend is expected to continue as businesses enter into relationships
with professional employer organizations and shift these responsibilities to specialists.
Employment placement agencies are expected to continue growing, but not as fast as temporary help services or professional
employer organizations. Growth in these agencies stems from employers’ increasing willingness to allow outside agencies to
perform the preliminary screening of candidates and the growing acceptance of executive recruitment services. However,
online employment placement agencies operate without employment
counselors and need fewer
administrative support workers. Job postings on employer Web sites; online newspaper classified ads; and job matching Internet
sites operated by educational institutions and professional associations compete with this industry, thereby dampening employment growth.
Most new jobs will arise in the largest occupational groups in this industryoffice and administrative support
occupations, production, and transportation and
material moving occupations. However,
the continuing trend toward specialization also will spur growth among professional workers, including engineers,
computer specialists, and healthcare practitioners such as nurses. Managers also will see an increase in new jobs,
as government increasingly contracts out management functions. In addition, growth of temporary help firms and
professional employer organizationswhich provide human resource management, risk management, accounting, and
information technology serviceswill provide more opportunities for professional workers within those fields.
Marketing and sales representative jobs in temporary staffing firms also are expected to increase along with competition
among these firms for the most qualified workers and the best clients.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2004-05 Edition, Employment Services , on the Internet at
(visited July 09, 2004).