Locating Science Temporaries

One of the most significant expenditures for any science-based company is its people. Clearly, if a company could reduce its personnel costs without sacrificing any productivity or intellectual resources, its bottom line would look much better. Renting staff...that is, using scientifically trained individuals just when the company needs them—is a method of reducing costs while maintaining the level of sophistication and expertise to which a company is accustomed. Take, for example an

Jan 25, 1988
Ira Litman
One of the most significant expenditures for any science-based company is its people. Clearly, if a company could reduce its personnel costs without sacrificing any productivity or intellectual resources, its bottom line would look much better.

Renting staff...that is, using scientifically trained individuals just when the company needs them—is a method of reducing costs while maintaining the level of sophistication and expertise to which a company is accustomed.

Take, for example an agrichemical manufacturer that recently identified a new herbicide—one that could prove very effective and safe for the environment. The company has determined that the com pound requires a testing program of six to 18 months using a specific type of moth colony indigenous to its geographical market target. So it must hire a technician to play mother and protector to the moths in the test.

If the company hires directly, union regulations will force it to find this person a permanent assignment once he or she spends more than six months on the job, even if the project is abandoned. The company’s hiring scale indicates that it must pay a minimum of $24,000 annually and provide medical coverage, long and short term disability, life insurance, dental coverage, an eyeglass and prescription plan, 2 weeks vacation, 12 holidays, 10 days sick leave and 4 personal days.

The company can obtain the services of the same individual from a temporary provider such LifeTech Services for $11.50 an hour, with all taxes, vacations, holidays, medical coverage, and insurances included. That’s a difference of almost $13,000 annually (see table).

That is just one example of a situation that would be ideal for using a temporary employee. Other clients of mine use scientific temporaries as part of their permanent hiring routine. A specialty chemical testing company, for example uses LifeTech as a probationary service for all its new hires. We find the people, and the company evaluates them while they are on our payroll. If the company wants to offer a permanent position, it has only to wait six months or more—and it pays no fee. Another client, a start-up company that has determined that it would be too costly to establish a benefit package of any kind, has all its employees apart from the two principals on LifeTech’s payroll. In fact several companies on our books use us to provide payroll and limited benefits; the companies conduct their own searches and place the individuals they find on our payroll. That is often how a company can make use of retired yet viable and valuable employees.

If you can appreciate the economic benefits of temporary scientists to your company, you will surely enjoy the reality of the interim staff member. By and large, scientists who place themselves in situations without permanence have good senses of self worth. They are saying to employers, in effect: “I am good enough to per- form your task, and when it ends, I am good enough to find employment here.” The confidence of a temporary scientist is carried into the workplace in a very positive way.

The experience of people who use temporaries was best described by my first client, when I asked him how my employee was doing. “She is a chemist on stage,” he said. “She is performing as though the spotlight is on her all the time; she never gives less than a commanding performance; she never lets up.” Then he added, “I’m not the only one watching her closely. In her lab, sick leave is down and productivity is up since the others started to make their own comparisons.” Seven months later, the company offered her a permanent position.

How does a company ensure that it will obtain well-motivated science temporaries? The key is selecting the temporary services firm that represents the least risk to its success. Without a service to provide access to the specialized disciplines a company needs, its efforts to locate temps may become an unsatisfying and uncomfortable expenditure of time. That implies a provider who understands the company’s needs and is not merely trying to service a market as an adjunct to other businesses.

Of the hundreds of companies providing temporary technical services, only a handful aim specifically at science-based companies. If you call ABC Tech and express a need for a chemist, the odds are that you’ll be speaking with someone who knows engineers, designers, draftsmen, programmers or secretaries and also knows that a chemist isn’t one of the above.

What clues are available to indicate that a temporary service really does know the scientific marketplace? Most important, the service’s representative, confronted with a request for a chemist, should ask what kind of chemist, for what kind of applications, what equipment the individual should be familiar with, and the degree level required.

The service should also have a feel for the rate ranges of a given position and for the likelihood of finding a candidate in a suitable time frame. Always beware of “Sure, we can do that!” when it comes to difficult technical requirements. A search for a qualified scientific temporary should start with a realistic response as to how long it may take to find that individual. With the right information, a company may have to decide to extend its time frame or re-evaluate its need. But the correct choice will give the company much tighter control of its budget plans and allow more sophisticated long-range plans.

Ira M. Litman is Division Manager for LifeTech Services Division of H.L. Yoh Company,
1818 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA
19103.

This is the second of a three-part series on temporary staffing in science.


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(The Scientist, Vol:2, #2, p.29, January 25, 1988)
(Copyright © The Scientist, Inc.)

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