YAKIMA -- With the foundering economy, Trina Brooks of Yakima wasn't shocked when she was laid off earlier this year. But what did surprise her was how quickly she found another job.
"I didn't put all my eggs in one basket," said Brooks, 40, who used a temp agency to secure employment. "I like the job a lot. I'm extremely happy and satisfied."
Brooks, a single mother with one child, works as an accountant at Domex Superfresh Growers in Yakima. With the help of ADD Staffing -- which she first used in 2009 to find part-time work -- she was hired within several weeks of launching her job search.
If Brooks proves herself at Domex, she will be hired as a full-time, permanent employee in June, after 90 days of work. Kriss Zerr, vice president of operations for Domex, said her company typically hires 10 temp workers a year, eight or nine of whom are later hired on a permanent basis.
"We always use temp workers because you never know if that person will work out," she said. "If all goes well, we generally do make them permanent."
Across the country, a growing number of employers are helping to stimulate the economy by hiring through temp agencies. But in Yakima County -- with only 1 percent to 2 percent of the work force employed in this capacity -- the significance of the jobs is less clear.
"This industry is relatively not as strong as it is in the state as a whole," said Don Meseck, a regional labor economist based in Kittitas County. "It's not growing, and that's not a good sign. ... But we don't have 2010 data yet."
l l l
Just like retail sales and building permits, an increase in temporary hires signals a rebounding economy, Meseck said.
"When that industry starts to pick up, it indicates employers are starting to hire again," he said. "The trend for the last few years has been for employers -- especially in an economy that's recovering -- to take tentative steps. Rather than hire people and put them on the payroll, they will wait and see."
According to 2009 numbers, the state employed 113,530 people in administrative and support services, a category that includes everyone from janitors and landscapers to security guards and travel agents. Of this number, 35 percent to 40 percent worked in temporary health services and employment-placement agencies, Meseck said.
From 2004-09, the percentage of administrative and support services personnel remained steady at about 4 percent in the state. In Yakima County, the number of jobs dropped from 2,093 to 1,487 in the same time period, equaling a 29 percent loss.
Still, Meseck said administrative and support services represents only 1.5 percent of the county's work force.
"The trend is not heading in the right direction, but 2010 is the wild card," he said. "I think the losses are slowing, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a stable economy or a small upturn in 2011."
The picture varies depending on the industry, said Dyann Horton, branch manager for ADD Staffing in Yakima. Even during high unemployment, she said available jobs don't necessarily match the skills of the work force.
For people who suddenly find themselves back in the job market, they may not be considered for clerical jobs because of advances in computer software programs and office technologies. Or, for those in manufacturing positions, their skills may have been individualized to the requirements of a specific company or piece of machinery, as opposed to transferable production skills, Horton said.
Then there are experienced employees whose wage expectations are higher than what employers are willing to pay.
"With so many job seekers competing for available positions, both under- and overqualified individuals must contend with the fact they will have to take a pay cut when starting over with a new employer," she said. "Just how much of a pay cut can determine whether a job seeker will accept the position or not."
Mimicking national trends, Horton said she is seeing an increasing demand for manufacturing workers. As the year progresses, she predicts the clerical and professional industries will follow suit.
"Businesses have always relied on temporary help for added flexibility when it comes to work force hiring and management," she said. "With the recent economic downturn, we see that movement gathering momentum."
In previous years, Horton said 10 percent of her clients' work force were temporary workers. Now that percentage averages 15 percent to 25 percent, while other companies -- attracted to the flexibility and cost savings -- are beginning to employ temporary help for the first time.
l l l
Part of the cost savings comes by not offering medical benefits to temporary workers. Sometimes these benefits are provided through the temp agencies, but more frequently, the workers go without.
Doug Jones, owner of Express Employment Professionals in Yakima, said he is seeing more employers hire seasonal workers -- such as during tax season -- and then cut back once business slows.
"They bring in temporary help for the uptick," he said. "We're finding a lot more companies are being noncommittal to full-time employment."
The bulk of the people who turn to him do so because they are unemployed and looking for work, while a few are not happy with their existing employer, Jones said. From there, Jones said his job is to match skills with openings -- many of which are not advertised.
The positions could be temporary, permanent or could become permanent after a probationary period, he said.
"People look great on a resume and interview fabulously, but until they work in your office, you don't know what kind of person you have," he said. "If you try them out, you see if they are a good fit."
l l l
For nearly six months, 21-year-old Rey Toki has worked as a temp employee for Michelsen Packaging in Yakima. There, he spends his days rebuilding pallets and assisting customers at the recycling center.
Referred to the company by ADD Staffing, Toki said the agency helped him find work as soon as he moved from Orange County, Calif., last fall. With a girlfriend and 2-year-old son to support, he said he counts himself lucky to find a job and hopes to advance within the company.
"I like all the people here. We get along great," Toki said. "I've stayed here because I see a future here."
Now Toki said he is focused on proving himself so Michelsen Packaging will hire him on a permanent basis -- a goal his employer, Vic Valdez, said Toki is close to achieving.
"This is a good opportunity," Toki said. "My family, my son, motivate me and push me to do bigger and better things."