Tech & Work

TechRepublic member: Don't get burned when hiring temporary help

Need to hire a few temporary IT workers? One TechRepublic member, who has experience as a temp, now owns his own temporary service agency. Here are his tips to make sure your temporary workers offer lasting value.


Some IT managers who have hired IT technicians as temporary workers believe that the process is a big crapshoot—it takes a lot of luck for the gamble to pay off, and you run the risk of wasting money and time.

IT managers who are critical of temp workers often complain that the skills temp workers bring to the job fall short of the level needed to complete the task. How do you avoid these personnel and financial risks?

A member’s view from inside the temp business
TechRepublic member Paul T. Butterworth of Amherst, NY, owns Power Electronics, a company that provides IT services and temporary workers. Prior to starting his business, he worked as a temporary technical worker for a well-known U.S. company that provides temp workers for IT projects. Butterworth has seen the temp business from the inside.

“The [temporary agencies] are charging you $40 to $60 per hour, and they’re paying their techs $12 per hour,” Butterworth said. “That’s [the level of experience] you’re getting.”

Recommendations for IT managers
Here are Butterworth’s recommendations for IT managers who need to hire temporary workers:
  • Look at the temp company’s experience and previous customers.
  • Ask for a list of skills and certifications that each temporary worker brings to the table.
  • If you are planning a new or unique project, you may not be certain what skills will be required. Hire your temporary help on an hourly basis, versus a contract, for at least the first month.

Know what you are getting
According to Butterworth, you should ask for references, even if you contract with a leading temporary service company. Ask the agency for a list of their clients you can contact for an assessment of the agency and the people they provide.

You should also ask about the number of qualified technicians on the agency’s rolls and the kind of experience these workers have. But be careful; certifications alone can be misleading.

Butterworth worked as a temp for an agency that didn’t have enough knowledge about IT. The people dispatching workers, he said, were not qualified to know if the temporary workers they were sending to clients actually had the skills needed to do the work.

While on a job upgrading a number of workstations, Butterworth was supervising fellow temporary workers when one of them asked him about transferring a hard drive from the old computer to the new one. This fellow had an A+ certification, and knew the procedure for transferring the drive, but had never actually performed the task, Butterworth said.

Butterworth believes that many A+ certification courses give students an understanding of the theory of how computers work but don’t require the hands-on experience they need to put that knowledge to practical use.

Hourly or contract—that is the question
When you find a company that looks promising, consider beginning with a pay structure based on an hourly rate. Don’t sign a contract. This tactic is particularly important if the project you are undertaking is complex or unfamiliar to you, Butterworth said.

“If the client doesn’t have the experience to ask the right questions, they should contract on an hourly basis for a month or so,” he said. “If I get [your business] and I get your office running and you’re happy with me, sign a contract [with me].”

There is a drawback to signing a contract, even though a contract may save you money over the long haul of a complex project. But if the quality of the work is inferior, an hourly arrangement is a better choice because you have immediate recourse, according to Butterworth.

“You may be out $100 or $150 for a service call, but if you don’t like them or they don’t finish the job, you can go with someone else,” Butterworth said.

While a temporary services agency may respond quicker to its contract clients, he said, an hourly arrangement also will give you an opportunity to see whether the agency has taken on more business than it can handle.

If the temporary staffing company can’t meet your standards or your support needs, it is time to start the search over again.
Have you wasted money on temporary workers who don’t have the skills you need to complete a project? Did you ever get stuck in a contract that left you with unqualified workers and little support? Or have you had a good experience working with a temporary agency? Start a discussion below or send us a note.

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