Remember when temp workers did little besides answering phones and keying in data? We don't, either. "There really isn't a job category today that hasn't been filled by a staffing company," says Richard Wahlquist, president and chief executive officer of the American Staffing Association. Now, there's a whole new breed of temp firm, often national in reach and specializing in ever-narrowing niches. With recession fears looming, more and more cost-conscious companies are turning to those firms to fill empty positions. Indeed, in the next decade employment in the staffing sector is expected to grow about 19 percent -- almost twice the expected growth of total U.S. employment. Here are a handful of companies that are competing to send those temps to your door.
When you need one number cruncher -- or a dozen
The company: Tatum, Atlanta
Why we like it: There are plenty of rent-a-CFO and financial consulting companies. But with 37 offices and a bench strength of 500 CFOs, Tatum is one of the largest -- and it was co-founded by Doug Tatum, who has been featured in the pages of Inc. If you need an interim CFO or controller, Tatum can find you one; meanwhile, a team of Tatum consultants can help you decide which financial software to use or even oversee a merger. Tatum places tech executives as well. Troy Wragg, founder and CEO of Mantria, a real estate development company based in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, tapped Tatum after concluding he lacked the expertise to continue handling the finances for his $33 million firm. The temporary executive Wragg hired had more than 30 years of experience. "He's a Johnny-on-the spot -- he's there for everything," Wragg says. Wragg initially signed the CFO on for six months, but the relationship has been so successful that Wragg renewed the contract for another six months. "The chief financial officer position is too important to make a hiring mistake," Wragg says. "We don't have the in-house expertise to hire, train, and integrate that role."
Drawback: If you're just looking for a little advisory help, Tatum probably isn't for you. The company typically works on multimonth contracts, while other interim CFO firms operate on the more traditional pay-by-the-hour model.
What it costs: About $25,000 a month for a controller at a small company in a small market. The fee can reach $75,000 per month, plus bonus, for a CFO at a large company.
When you need blue-collar help
The company: TrueBlue (NYSE:TBI), Tacoma, Washington
Why we like it: With more than 800 offices throughout the U.S., TrueBlue can deploy several hundred workers to a job site fast. The company places 600,000 temps a year. Some are low-skilled general laborers -- for example, the company's temps shoveled snow at Lambeau Field before the January playoff game between the Packers and Giants. The company also places skilled workers such as carpenters, plumbers, and electricians. The workers are insured by TrueBlue.
Drawback: If you need a highly skilled worker, you might have to wait a few days. The higher the skill level needed for a job, the longer it could take TrueBlue to find and screen the proper candidate.
What it costs: TrueBlue charges about $13 per hour for general unskilled labor (the snow shovelers, for instance), although the figure varies depending on the local job market and the local minimum wage. Carpenters and other skilled laborers cost more.
When you need a virtual assistant
The company: SimpleBackOffice.com, Miami
Why we like it: Virtual assistants can do anything that can be done remotely: setting up appointments, managing e-mail, sending out invoices, processing payroll. SimpleBackOffice founder Todd Lay hired his first batch of virtual assistants in the U.S., but when turnover reached 60 percent, he decided to relocate to the Philippines. Now, he says, turnover is less than 20 percent a year. And when he's looking to hire, he has access to a steady supply of experienced, college-educated workers looking for long-term employment. That's a boon for his clients, who don't want their assistants, virtual or not, to jump ship after a few weeks. Plus, there's no need to wonder what your far-flung assistant is doing when he or she is on the clock; screen shots of their computers are snapped every 10 minutes so you can make sure you're not paying someone to play solitaire. And SimpleBackOffice's assistants work according to their clients' schedules, so you don't have to worry about the time difference.
Drawbacks: Even the best virtual assistant can't match in-house help. "I tell clients we're horrible at getting coffee," Lay says. And though SimpleBackOffice has contingency plans to make sure its temps stay online, there's always a risk that technology glitches and bad weather could temporarily knock out communications.
What it costs: If you buy services à la carte, it's $35 an hour. If you commit to a certain number of hours per month, rates range from $16 to $20 an hour. Sign up for 80 hours per month and the cost is $17.89 per hour or $17,174 for the year. Contracts are on a month-to-month basis, so you're not locked into a long-term agreement.
When you need fresh, young talent on the cheap
The company: Brill Street + Company, Chicago
Why we like it: Think of Brill Street as a matchmaker between college students and businesses seeking talented temps. The company recruits and assesses the skills of students, all of whom must maintain a B average and be able to work at least 20 hours per week. Students are then placed in positions related to their field of study. If Brill Street doesn't have a good fit in its existing pool, it will recruit a match. And clients get the added perk of forging relationships with soon-to-be graduates so they can develop a pipeline for young talent. Rob Dennison, CEO of Adams Harris, a Chicago-based consulting firm, has used Brill Streeters to do market research, identify potential new clients, do tech support, and recruit new hires. He estimates he has saved at least 50 percent by choosing Brill Street instead of a traditional temp firm that places skilled workers. "And I'd argue I'm getting better talent," Dennison says.
Drawback: When you hire a Brill Streeter, you're trading experience for enthusiasm. There will be a learning curve.
What it costs: $25 to $35 per hour
When you need high-tech talent
The company: Matrix Resources, Atlanta
Why we like it: There's no shortage of reliable tech staffing firms across the country. That said, we like Matrix's holistic approach to meeting clients' IT needs. Matrix is a combination staffing and consulting firm. The agency places both temporary and permanent workers. Matrix also has its own tech-savvy employees who can complete projects for clients off-site -- redesigning a website, for example, or developing or testing software. Matrix's placement officers also try to make sure that the employees they send to a client mesh with the company's culture. "The Matrix team really does get to know your company and the personalities that make up your staff," says Paul M. Turner III, chief information officer at Duluth, Georgia -- based AUS Information Systems, a company that sets up and maintains Internet and phone services for small businesses.
Drawback: Though Matrix has filled positions in most U.S. states, its consultants and temps are concentrated in 14 metropolitan offices. So it may not be able to take on a major project in, say, Augusta, Maine.
What it costs: For temp work, Matrix typically bills clients from $65 to $80 per hour, about 80 percent of which goes to the temp. Projects handled off-site are billed on a flat-fee basis.