This article first appeared in IMPO's August 2013 issue.

Anna Wells, Executive Editor, IMPOIn a recent article by the Associated Press (“Temporary Jobs Are Becoming a Permanent U.S. Fixture”), AP Economics Writer Christopher S. Rugaber describes the hiring explosion that is taking place in the U.S.: temporary workers. Surprisingly, 12 percent of those with a job are temporary workers, and hiring of temps has jumped 50 percent since the recession ended. And though the temporary worker has never been a stranger to manufacturing, where seasonal or short production runs sometimes demand a flexible workforce, our industry is still seeing an uptick in their use: About one-third of temporary workers work in manufacturing, says the AP.

As the rise in temporary workers continues to affect our industry, it’s important that plant managers have a strategy for managing this new crop of personnel. Many plant-wide initiatives, like a strong safety culture, for example, are grassroots efforts that come from the ground up. They succeed through repetition and camaraderie; through consistent training and knowledge of and respect for the equipment in use. When an organization has a glitch in its safety culture, it’s not necessarily an easy fix so if you’re contending with a lot of new team members – or a lot of related turnover – it’s hard to understand how to define the underpinnings of morale and motivation.

And it can be even harder to address if these temporary workers don't feel (at least temporarily) at home. According to the AP article, temps “typically receive low pay, few benefits, and scant job security,” resulting in a less committed relationship between the firm and the worker. But the other side of this coin is that temporary or seasonal workers often transition well into permanent employment, if and when those positions become available. It’s management’s job to nurture these individuals and be able to adequately assess who will be strong candidates for longer term projects or full time positions, so it’s important not to view them as a less critical version of your regular, full time team.

According to Smart Resources, a Chicago-based temp-to-hire firm, first impressions are key for establishing trust with your temporary workers and creating an environment that best promotes their success: “Whether it be a production or professional environment, make time for introductions. If appropriate, assign a regular employee to be a mentor for the temp. Knowing whom to go to with questions increases a temporary associate’s confidence and comfort level... They help the temporary associate to feel valued as a person, not just as a commodity needed to fill a short-term need.”

Smart Resources also emphasizes the importance of the interview process, and how spending some time early on can save time later when you’re able to avoid any bad fits. Asking the right questions at the outset only improves the process. In addition, it allows for savvy managers to set their sights on folks who might be able to fill other, more long-term organizational gaps.

For example — A recent report by describes cities where it has become “nearly impossible” for people with vocational training to find factory and warehouse work without first being directed to a temp firm. One thing you can take from this is that many of the workers being routed through the temporary workforce have strong skills and experience. It’s important to identify these potential superstars early on and ensure you can track their progress and keep them in mind for more permanent offers.

It's really a balancing act for managers, as they strive to get the most out of these individuals without opening themselves up to the kind of risk that comes with new-to-the-business workers. What this means is management must take a very active role in how these folks are hired, managed, and retained. It’s your job to make success permanent, so be careful not to miss any opportunities.

Managers: Do you have any tips on how you've optimized the talents of temporary workers? Email me: