Most people want a permanent job, but others prefer not to be tied down. Beryl Dixon looks at what motivates temporary workers

The usual reason is a desire for flexibility. This can mean a desire not to be tied down and to have the freedom to take off at will, particularly for periods of travelling. Other temps, however, need flexible work and an income that ties in with other, primary careers.

Sam Mason of Crone Corkill, a recruitment consultancy that has 1,000 temps working in central London and the City, has mums who want term-time work only, resting actors and people running small businesses making jewellery or clothes, on her books. "We have also found work for an author who spent two years writing a book and for a young man awaiting entry to Sandhurst who needed free periods to attend medicals and pre-entry training courses."

In addition, temping can be a means of career development. It gives an opportunity to try different jobs and employment areas, or to get a foot in the door and to use basic experience in a sought-after sector, such as media, as a stepping stone to permanent employment.

But it works both ways. Some of Mason's clients prefer to recruit a temp for a period of several months with a view to finding a good permanent member of staff.

Temping suits employers, too. They can test employees' abilities before offering a permanent contract, or recruit cost-effectively for the duration of a project. These are the reasons for many long-term assignments now being available. And, unlike permanent staff who often work late to finish a task, temps are paid for the hours they work.

Kara Barnard has been temping since she arrived in London from South Africa over a year ago. She says, "I'm here on a two-year working holiday. At first I looked for a permanent job to give me some security, but I soon realised that temping would give me the flexibility I need. I want to travel as much as possible and I can take time between assignments to do so without causing any problems to employers. I just inform my agency well in advance of dates when I won't be available. I have had 20 or so different jobs, beginning with reception and general office work for a few days at a time and proving myself in them.

"I am working currently in business development rather than in a straight secretarial role in a City law firm and I have previously worked in advertising, marketing, for large corporates and for dotcom companies. A benefit I had not anticipated is the boost to my confidence. Exposure to so many different companies has made me realise that I can work anywhere and I'm sure I will go home with an enhanced CV."

Temping, then, has advantages, but temps often complain of feeling like outsiders not even given their own e-mail addresses. This is changing though, says Mason. "With a trend towards longer assignments - ours average three to six months - companies are treating temps better, giving them more responsibility and inviting them to parties, while many have a buddy system and good handover procedures."

However, there will be no long-term benefits like employer pension contributions or private medical insurance - and there is always the possibility of having days with no work. Temps do, however, qualify for statutory holiday pay. If they find their own work (and this is only likely on some long-term assignments as employers prefer to use agencies rather than to advertise) they will have to negotiate this by themselves and will also be responsible for paying their own income tax and National Insurance (NI) contributions.

Agencies normally organise PAYE and NI payments and add a percentage on to pay to cover holiday payments.

Another disadvantage to temping is that it can ultimately hinder career development. Employers want permanent staff as top-flight personal and executive assistants. Lastly, there is salary.

Even a senior secretary is unlikely to earn more than £17 per hour in London, while team secretaries could earn £14. If money is important , it pays to choose an employment sector carefully. Financial companies offer the highest salaries.