An article in theNew York Times suggests that employers and employees alike might be moving toward a temporary-centric staffing model.

In November 2010, 80% of the 50,000 jobs created in the private sector were temporary positions.  For all of 2010, a bit more than 26% of 1.17 million jobs were temporary positions. That’s a lot.

What are we to make of such high numbers of temporary positions? There are, I think, two possibilities:

1. What we are seeing is a standard trend of a recovering economy. In past recessions, a jump in temporary hiring has always preceded a steady rise in long-term hiring. Overall economic growth for 2010 was 2.9%, according to theBureau of Economic Analysis– a good number, to be sure.

If growth in the next few years remains steady or improves, it’s just a matter of time, some would say, before employers start creating more full-time positions.

2. We are witnessing the beginning of a long-term trend toward more temporary employment. (And that’s across the board: blue collar, office, and highly skilled and specialized workers.)

Even before the recession, employers were getting skittish about the high healthcare costs associated with full-time employees.

In addition, work in general was becoming more project-based, demanding fewer full-time project managers and more temporary teams of workers.

Advances in staffing software have also enabled employers to better predict their employment needs, leading them to cut down on expensive full-time hires.

In short, the recession pushed employers to a new staffing model: hire a minimum amount of full-time workers and use staffing agencies and independent contractors as needed to fill out the rest of the workforce.

Which of these is correct? Only time will tell, of course. If we see economic growth surge past 4% in 2011, the competition for qualified workers will force employers to make more full-time offers. If growth hovers between 2.5% and 3.5%, expect temporary employment to account for a large number of new jobs.

My guess is that there’s something else that’s changing in the larger workforce. More people – especially highly skilled people – are opting for a freelance, independent contractor lifestyle.

The growth of information technology and sophisticated telecommunications makes it easier than ever to work from home (or the coffee shop, library, or any place with an Internet connection), which in turn makes it easier, if you have skills that are in demand, to broker yourself out to multiple employers.

If that’s the case, then temporary employment will be on the rise for many years to come.

But my guess is just that – a guess. There simply are no good statistics available on independent contracting. You can be sure, though, that I’ll be keeping my eye on – and commenting on – employment statistics as they come out.          ~ ~

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