There's nothing temporary about a $6-billion industry that's growing about 20% a year and supplying 700,000 Americans with jobs every day -- temporary jobs. According to the Department of Commerce, temporary services is one of the nation's fastest-growing industries in employment.

While 60% of all "temps" are still clearical workers, the use of professional temps is "one of the fastest-growing areas in the temporary industry," says Sam Sacco, executive vice-president of the National Association of Temporary Services. "The business community is just starting to find our that it can have workers with these skills on a temporary basis." The new temps include accountants, engineers, systems analysts -- even nuclear plant designers.

Companies have sound reasons for hiring temporary professionals. They save on costly benefits and can cut back their work force with much less trauma if business starts to slide. Temps also makes sense when a company is facing reorganization, changes in office automation, or a new-product introduction.

Summa Four Inc., a $10-million manufacturer of telecommunications equipment in Manchester, N.H., has been using temporary designers and engineers for five years. "There are time windows through which we must enter a product, or we lose a significant amount of sales," says David Prince, director of engineering. "That's why we use temps."

When U.S. Travel World, a Somerville, Mass., travel agency wanted to enter a new market, it hired a temporary marketing pro. "[The temp] helped us with a marketing strategy and an ad campaign," says partner Nicholas Salerno. "It really boils down to one-on-one service that -- on our budget -- we just wouldn't get from a regular ad agency."

Some companies even use temporary services as a source of people they may want to hire permanently. But as temporary-services agencies become more sophisticated -- some offer technical training benefits and profit sharing -- fewer temps are willing to abandon the flexibility for full-time jobs. "We've tried to hire temps permanently," laments Prince, "but we haven't been able to lure them away."