Why the `temp' may be the happiest worker in the office

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Stephen Dyer is 40 years old and, though he does not have a settled job, he does not seem unhappy about it. Instead, he is one of a growing band of career temps - highly qualified, experienced professionals who have chosen to take on a variety of senior-level temporary assignments rather than full-time employment with one organisation.

Mr Dyer has worked as a management accountant at such organisations as Asprey's, Mothercare, Knickerbox and Sears in roles ranging from financial control to marketing and merchandising.

He is one of hundreds of people ready to fill assignments around the country for a week, a month or longer if preferred. The attraction for the employers is that they are paid an agreed hourly rate that involves no long-term overheads or ongoing commitments. So enticing is the idea that recruitment consultants up and down Britain - but especially in the South-east - are reporting a surge of interest in this sort of service. According to recruitment consultancies such as Wade Macdonald, the career temp does not necessarily see temping as a "stopgap" between jobs. While the "temp-to-perm" route - where employer and individual have a chance to see how matters work out before committing themselves to a longstanding agreement - is also growing, Philip Macdonald, a partner at Wade Macdonald, believes that the stigma associated with temping has been eroded. Financial temping and contract work are now seen as a viable option by employers and candidates.

As a result, more accountants are opting for this route, even though by doing so they are making it less financially attractive. This is because when there were fewer people prepared to work in this way they could command a premium. Now their rates of pay have come down, though it is still possible to earn as much as in an equivalent permanent position.

James Wheeler, managing director of Hewitson-Walker, a consultancy specialising in temporary assignments, identifies three areas of demand.

First, there is the continuing need for "information technology applications people", typically those who have trained in accountancy but sit between the IT and finance functions. They are generally developing or upgrading systems in banks and other financial institutions.

Second, there is demand for help with investigations carried out under theumbrella "forensic accounting". Interest has increased here because of growing concern over the potential effects of fraud. Companies feel the need to tighten up their systems and do not have the resources to do it with existing staff.

Third, there are opportunities in the back offices of medium-sized and large banks because of the forthcoming introduction of the Crest electronic settlement system. Since the institutions will have to run their existing systems in parallel with the one coming on stream in June until teething problems are sorted out, they will need help for a short period.

On top of this, the high level of activity in mergers and acquisitions is creating a more buoyant market. "There's lots of recruitment in fund management and investment management," says Mr Wheeler.

It seems, however, that some remain to be convinced. Worried about negative connotations of the word "temp", Mr Grout's organisation is introducing a division called Robert Half Interim.

Borrowing a concept that has been around in general management for some time, the company intends to alert companies to the possibilities of flexible arrangements that can be used strategically in such situations as turnarounds as well as in emergencies.

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