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Agencies report rise in temporary jobs; Companies turn to short-term help as permanent employees use last of vacation time

The holiday season has given the valuable gift of employment to some area job seekers.

While Christmas shopping spawns seasonal positions, employers have been calling upon temporary workers as permanent employees use vacation time.

"Our customer service needs have jumped in recent weeks," said Rich Sicero, branch manager at Spherion Staffing of Western New York. "They're filling in for administrative workers on vacations."

With Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day, November and December are peak vacation months as workers take time off for holiday preparations and observances, creating a need for temporary help. Sicero said these positions typically last a few weeks to months.

Though it is temporary work, a robust hiring season for local staffing companies can augur well for the creation of permanent jobs. "We're definitely seeing the need for temporary workers going up because employers are feeling more comfortable and confident about the economy," Sicero said. "Our revenue stream is increasing; hopefully that suggests the worst is over, and we're moving in a positive direction."

Paul Alberti, president of SPS Temporaries, said there's been a 20 percent spike in hiring over the past six months at his company, which links clerical and industrial workers with employers.

"I think the economy in general has improved, and it has increased the need for seasonal workers," said Alberti, adding that it also improves the odds of securing a long-term position.

Nationwide, the number of people employed through U.S. staffing companies grew by 401,000 jobs last year, second only to 1994, when 428,000 positions were added in one year, according to the American Staffing Association. On an average business day last year, U.S. staffing firms sent 2.6 million workers into the workplace, up 18.4 percent from 2009. And that held steady into the first quarter of this year, a 14.3 percent increase from a year earlier.

Part of that growth is fueled by the trend for companies to use temps rather than making permanent hires.

But Sicero said the boost in short-term and permanent hiring at temp agencies is a strong indicator the job market is recovering.

"The staffing industry is a barometer for the economy," he said. "And we've seen an incline, companies wanting more temps and direct hires. It shows the economy's moving in the right direction."

Furthermore, companies are increasingly using temporary agencies to find permanent workers, Sicero said. With the economic crunch of recent years, some companies have had to eliminate their human resources departments and now rely on staffing agencies to find new employees, Sicero said.

"In reality, we're their human resources department," he said.