The Facts and Fallacies of Temporary Work

The terms “temporary work” and “gig economy” often get a bad rap. When most people think of them, images of an arduous landscape of dry and tedious tasks often pop in mind. While some of the more repetitive jobs such as wardrobe attendees do form part of the reality of temp work, they don’t give a sense of the full picture.

Temporary work is one of the most easily misunderstood pieces of the future of work, but it has an important role to play in the coming years. If you don’t believe what I’m saying, take a quick look at the data: a survey from swissstaffing revealed that flexible work yielded a whopping 8.5 billion Swiss francs in revenue just in Switzerland in 2017. Compare that to the previous year, it’s a near-15% increase in the number of temporary workers in the country. The number of temporary workers working the equivalent of full-time—or 42 hours per week—was more than 90,000. In short: temporary work is not a temporary phenomenon.

It’s true that many workers seek out temp work as a means to enter the labor market with the intent to find a fixed-contract employment. But too often, we make dangerous assumptions of who these workers are, their backgrounds, their qualifications, and their ambitions. Here are the three most frequently-held beliefs about temporary work and workers dispelled by the actual facts.

Myth 1: Temporary workers lack qualifications and training

The level of qualification of temporary workers has risen steadily over the years. In Switzerland, more than half of temporary workers have completed an apprenticeship, and 12% hold a university degree. Furthermore, associations like temptraining exist whose mission it is to offer financial support as well as promote the further education of temporary workers.

Myth 2: Temporary workers are only young students

A look at the reports of any broad survey on the flexible workforce can quickly dispel the myth surrounding this one: there is no single type of temp worker. On the topic of age, the proportion of older working professionals joining the flexible workforce has increased continuously, with the proportion of 50+ year-old temporary workers rising from 10% in 2006 to 13% in 2014.

One reason we see more older people entering the flexible workforce is that they are realizing it allows them to set the pace for how much they want to work. In the UK, a survey of more than 12,000 workers over 50 on behalf of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy reported that 78% of those surveyed want to see more flexible hours. With temporary or part-time work, that’s possible.

Myth 3: Temporary work is a last resort option

This is a toxic but widely-held belief. Temporary work is often seen as a transitional phase for many employees, but it can also be a long-term solution. As a reason for the decision to work temporarily, 45% stated that they did so voluntarily, as it suited their life situation at the time. Research by professors at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania showed a large number of people who joined the gig economy did not do so because of necessity, but rather to supplement their income. They began doing it to have more pocket money for vacation, but over time, realized that they actually enjoyed the job and the flexibility.

As temporary workers continue to be major players in the gig economy, which itself is expected to become a $2.7 trillion economy by 2025, it’s vital that we paint a realistic portrait of the growing flexible workforce.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Viktor Calabrò is Founder and Executive Chairman of Coople. He is also co-author of the book Flexible Workforce and was named Swiss Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young in 2014.