Temps set to make net gains

An internet company is planning to make temping an on-line success, reports Meg Carter
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The Independent Online
For most of us, permanent employment is still a way of working life. But the shift away from jobs for life in favour of flexible working is leading to a rapid expansion in temporary employment across a broad range of disciplines. And now? A new approach to temporary recruitment that promises to turn existing attitudes to temping on their head.

Tempz.com is an electronic temporary recruitment service which will be unveiled next week in advance of its UK launch in the new year. Claiming to be the world's first on-line temps agency, it promises to do to existing temp recruitment specialists what First Direct did to the high-street banks.

Typically, a temporary worker finds work by signing on with a local temp agency and employers pay the agency to meet their temporary recruitment requirements. The agency acts as broker, negotiating hourly rates with the temp, administering the relationship between the two parties - including payment - and charging the employer a percentage of the temporary worker's fee for managing the transaction.

The trouble is, the process is rarely as straightforward as that in a UK market where current industry estimates suggest that more than 12,000 recruitment agencies are competing for business. As a result, temps tend to sign on with a number of agencies - and so do employers, says Chris Leonard, chief executive of tempz.com, who until recently headed the recruitment consulting division of Securicor.

"With little to differentiate between different recruitment specialists in terms of service, taking on temps has become a commodity buy," he claims. "Given how crowded the market has become, the struggle is to stand out, add value and gain a real competitive edge." The answer, Leonard believes, lies in making better use of new technology and the internet.

Recruitment via the internet is nothing new, of course. A growing number of businesses now advertise job vacancies on their web sites, and the internet now boasts a number of specialist job vacancy sites, the largest of which is "Monster Board".

Recruiting temporary staff via the net, however, has not been tried - mainly because of the administrative technicalities and tight deadlines often required, Leonard explains. But, he believes, by setting up an electronic recruitment agency as a true e-business from day one many of these obstacles can be overcome.

Unlike the websites already operated by established "bricks and mortar" recruitment specialists such as Adecco, Manpower and Office Angels, tempz.com promises to handle registration, selection, allocation of candidates, administration of contracts and billing electronically.

"It's not about advertising vacancies on line, or enabling people to register their details or send us an e-mail via the internet," Leonard stresses. "It's about using the latest software and technology to match the right people, and passing on the cost savings and other benefits of not having a network of offices to the users."

Leonard believes that an electronic recruitment agency will allow both employer and temp greater control over the recruitment and selection process.

For the first time, temps will be able to decide how to market themselves - each will be allocated their own home page detailing skills, qualifications and other experience, he says. It will be up to the individual worker to specify the rates they will work for, although market forces - rather than recruitment consultant intervention - may modify this.

Temps will also be offered added-value services such as access to a chat room to swap experiences with other temps and direct links to legal, welfare and education sites. Learning packages will also be made available via the web and delivered electronically enabling people to "upskill" on line.

Employers, meanwhile, will be able to enter details of their requirements, and the system's software will automatically match them with the most appropriate temps available at that time. And to aid the negotiations, tempz.com will introduce a ratings system.

Tempz.com staff will follow usual procedures in checking out the skills and qualifications claimed by temps registering with the service. But the best recommendation to prospective employers is references from other recent employers, Leonard says. So each temp's home page will include a reference with a direct e-mail link to previous employers, should a prospective employer choose to use it.

To improve relations between employers, temps and the agency, fees and charges will be openly accessible to all, he adds. The present structure of the business often results in temps feeling dissatisfied with the service they get from agencies and sceptical about agency mark-ups, which, they often claim, eat into their rates of pay.

For the time being, of course, only a small proportion of the population have access to the internet from home, Leonard admits. That, however, is changing fast - a shift that will accelerate in coming months with the growth of digital TV and new technology enabling internet access via mobile phones.

To accommodate the new technology, tempz.com will be accessible in two ways - via the internet and via a telephone call to the tempz.com call centre. Users will be able to swap between the website and talking to a tempz.com representative at the press of a button. Both employers and temps will have to register first, however, to get a Pin number to access their relevant part of the tempz.com site - partly to prevent temps and temp agencies having access to confidential information about job-seekers.

With up to four million of the UK's 20 million-strong workforce working on a temporary basis - a figure currently growing at an annual rate of 10 per cent - the time is right to reassess the temporary jobs market, Leonard says. "Tempz.com is a way of giving companies and workers greater control and more choice at less cost," he claims. Welcome to the electronic jobs market.