I am part of an elite squadron of specialists. I am one hour into the future. I am a temp worker.
As today's business climate changes and America's corporations begin to see the folly of throwing billions of dollars away on employees and their needs, a new class of American worker has stepped up to the challenge of making these corporations profitable without giving consideration to personal enrichment or job satisfaction. These are luxuries of a bygone era, and today's temp worker has eschewed them for the good of the nation. The concept of the temp worker has been around for centuries, but just as gunpowder existed in the world of old long before it came into use in warfare, the temp worker has been reinvented as a weapon of the modern capitalist economy.
Historians believe that the technology of temporary employees (to use the scientific term) first emerged in ancient Egypt . These original temp workers were instrumental in constructing the awe-inspiring pyramids--earthworks that continue to enrich Egypt 's economy today through the modern miracle of tourism. These workers are known to history, but many of the past's temp jobs that continue to benefit society go largely unsung. When the ancient Romans and Greeks acquired new cities, they integrated the citizens of these cities into their own societies by giving them positions as temp workers, and were then free to philosophize and invent new holidays. Noah Webster was in many ways a visionary man, at least partly evidenced by his hiring of temps to think up all the words to put in his first dictionary. Panama --and, in fact, international trade and commerce--have temp workers to thank for digging the Panama Canal . Because of budget shortages, these brave lads saw fit to dig the Canal with only three shovels. Although these jobs did have rather high turnover rates, they were vital steps in the refinement of temp worker technology. And like the temp workers of old, today's temp workers are helping to build the corporate monuments that inspire our people and expand our upper class.
There are clearly many external, corporate and economic benefits that spring from the well of temp workers, but there are also many personal benefits. When Andrea in accounting dumps you for Ellen in engineering, you don't have to spend the rest of your life seeing them together in the hall every day. You get to see a wide variety of people, business styles, and business practices, and as your skills grow, a wider and wider array of temp jobs will open themselves up to you. You never have to worry about pesky pension plans, with all that paperwork and "saving for the future"--who needs to save for the future when there will always be temp jobs? You can rest assured that you're contributing to the economy twofold: necessary labor is being performed--labor that would otherwise go undone; and for every eight dollars an hour you make, the owners of your temp agency are receiving four dollars. Only with this small contribution are these quiet corporate giants able to survive and flourish.
There are those who say that a college education is no longer necessary to survive, especially as a temp worker, but I disagree. My degree in journalism was a direct contributor to my placement in a job at a computer company as a database administrator. College provided me with lessons in red tape and bureaucracy, ivory towers and pointless, repetitive tasks, to name only a few, and I draw upon and add to these lessons every working day.
It would be journalistically irresponsible to present the many positive sides of temp work without delving into its less positive aspects. Recently, I learned of another job opening at the large three-letter computer company for which I am currently a temp worker. As I was interested in this job, I applied for the position and had an interview with a nice man from my temp agency. He told me that although my skills were quite well suited for this new position, he would prefer to hire someone else. When I asked him why, given his concessions that my skills were adequate and that I had been with this company for some time and had learned its ways, and that my current post was drawing to a close, he explained to me that the agency preferred to have someone else in the position so they would have two temp workers instead of one. Naturally, I had no defense for this logic, and thanked him for his time. It is inherent to temp worker life that profit is a strong motivator; not so much for the worker as for the agency which placed him or her in the position, and for the corporation that hires temp workers from the agency. That, of course, is the nature of business, and is further proof that temp workers are integral cogs in the machinery of commerce.
There is also the issue of health insurance, or the lack thereof, but I take comfort in the knowledge that if I should crush my hand while on the job, the social mechanism of Temp Workers Compensation would reimburse me in full for a box of Band-Aids and a bottle of store-brand aspirin. I would even be given as much time off to heal as I required, provided my time off didn't coincide with regular working hours.
There are always people or institutions who, not being an hour into the future as we temp workers are, will unfortunately interpret one's status as a temp worker as a negative thing, rather than a positive one. I recently found out that mortgage companies frown on people who list a temp agency as their employer, even if the temporary posting has lasted for quite some time and provides a sufficient income (if you add up what I make and what my temp agency makes, which seems only fair). It has therefore been doubly difficult to acquire a home of my own, but pioneers have always had to sacrifice certain indulgences for the good of the generations who would follow in their footsteps.
The nature of our human existence is change. Our society is changing, our businesses are changing, our moral and ethical fabrics are changing, and we must adapt or perish. The forces of the marketplace are too powerful to be ignored, and we as workers and family providers can either ride that wave of change or be overwhelmed by it. I foresee a time when the Department of Labor will be replaced by the Department of Outsourcing. I look forward to a day when I can wear the logoed tie tack I received as a Christmas gift from my temp agency in public, and without leaving a trail of snickers behind me. I will embrace the day when the temp worker's face appears on a coin, or a postage stamp, or perhaps a food stamp.
Surely economists will look back on this period and marvel, for one of the great social dreams is about to be realized. A job will soon be available for every man, woman, and child who wants one, and as unemployment plummets, the economy will fill its sails and take our businesspeople to a new era of prosperity.
Robert M. Rowan is a writer, teacher, database administrator, and computer consultant. He lives in Salt Lake City with his dog Sam, who is also a temp.
Site Contents © 2004 Robert M. Rowan