Employment Services

Significant Points
  • Although future job growth in the employment services industry expected to continue at a faster-than-average pace, this growth will represent a slowdown from the very rapid growth of the 1990s.
  • Most temporary jobs in this industry require only graduation from high school, while some permanent jobs may require a bachelor’s or higher degree.
  • Temporary jobs provide an entry into the workforce, supplemental income, and a bridge to full-time employment for many workers.

Nature of the Industry [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Goods and services. The employment services industry provides a variety of human resources services to businesses. These services include providing temporary workers to other businesses, helping employers locate suitable employees, and providing human resources services to clients.

Industry organization. The employment services industry has three distinct segments. Employment placement agencies list employment vacancies and place permanent employees. Temporary help services, also referred to as temporary staffing agencies, provide employees to other organizations, on a contract basis and for a limited period, to supplement the workforce of the client. Professional employer organizations are engaged in providing human resources and human resources management services to staff client businesses. They also may share responsibility as a co-employer of workers in order to provide a cost-effective approach to the management and administration of the human resources functions of their clients.

The typical employment placement agency has a relatively small permanent staff, usually fewer than 10 workers, who interview jobseekers and try to match their qualifications and skills to those being sought by employers for specific job openings (chart 1).

Half of all jobs in the employment services industry are in establishments with 250 or more workers.

In contrast to the smaller employment placement agencies, temporary help agencies typically employ many more workers. Temporary help services firms provide temporary employees to other businesses to support or supplement their workforce in special situations, such as employee absences, temporary skill shortages, and varying seasonal workloads. Temporary workers are employed and paid by the temporary help services firm but are contracted out to a client for either a prearranged fee or an agreed hourly wage. Some companies choose to use temporary workers full time on an ongoing basis, rather than employ permanent staff, who typically would receive greater salaries and benefits. As a result, the overwhelming majority of workers in the temporary help services segment of the employment services industry are temporary workers; relatively few are permanent staff.

Professional employer organizations specialize in performing a wide range of human resource and personnel management duties for their client businesses, including payroll processing, accounting, benefits administration, recruiting, and labor relations. Employee leasing establishments, which are a type of professional employer organization, typically acquire and lease back some or all of the employees of their clients and serve as the employer of the leased employees for payroll, benefits, and related purposes.

Working Conditions [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Hours. The average annual work week in the employment services industry was about 33 hours in 2006, compared with the average of 34 hours across all industries. The low average work week reflects the fact that a temporary employee could work 40 or more hours a week on a contract for an extended period and then take a few weeks off from work. Most full-time temporary workers put in 35 to 40 hours a week, while some work longer hours. Permanent employees in employment agencies usually work a standard 40-hour week, unless seasonal fluctuations require more or fewer hours.

Workers employed as permanent staff of employment agencies, temporary help services firms, or professional employer organizations usually work in offices and may meet numerous people daily. Temporary employees work in a variety of environments and often do not stay in any one place long enough to settle into a personal workspace or establish close relationships with coworkers. Most assignments are of short duration because temporary workers may be called to replace a worker who is ill or on vacation or to help with a short-term surge of work. However, assignments of several weeks or longer occasionally may be offered. On each assignment, temporary employees may work for a new supervisor.

Employment as a temporary is attractive to some. The opportunity for a short-term source of income while enjoying flexible schedules and an ability to take extended leaves of absence is well-suited to students, persons juggling job and family responsibilities, those exploring various careers, and those seeking permanent positions in a chosen career. Firms try to accommodate workers’ preferences for particular days or hours of work and for frequency or duration of assignments. Temporary work assignments provide an opportunity to experience a variety of work settings and employers, to sharpen skills through practice, and to learn new skills. Nevertheless, many workers in temporary assignments would prefer the stability and greater benefits associated with full-time work.

Work environment. Since temporary and leased workers are used by a variety of different businesses, the work environments faced can vary greatly, depending on the type of work done. For example, temporary or leased clerical workers typically work in offices while production workers work in manufacturing plants. Permanent employees who are responsible for the day-to-day activities of firms within the industry tend to work in offices.

The annual injury and illness rate for the employment services industry as a whole was 3.3 cases for every 100 full-time workers in 2006, lower than the rate of 4.4 for the entire private sector. Temporary workers in industrial occupations often perform work that is more strenuous and potentially more dangerous, and may have a higher rate of injury and illness.

Employment [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

The employment services industry provided 3.7 million jobs in 2006, about 2.6 million of them in temporary help services firms. Professional employer organizations employed about 729,000, and employment placement agencies employed another 296,000. About 40,000 of the 68,000 establishments in the industry are temporary help services firms which employ 7 out of 10 industry workers.

Employment in the employment services industry is distributed throughout the United States. Workers are somewhat younger than those in other industries—42 percent of employment services workers are under 35, compared with 35 percent of all workers, reflecting the large number of clerical and other entry-level positions in the industry that require little formal education.

Occupations in the Industry [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

The employment services industry encompasses many occupations, from office and administrative support occupations to professional and production occupations (table 1). In general, occupations in the industry include the permanent staff of employment services firms, and the variety of occupations supplied through the temporary help services segment of the industry and the professional employer organizations.

Management, business, financial, and sales occupations. The staff of employment service agencies is responsible for the daily operation of the firm. Many of these workers are in management, business, financial, and sales occupations, which together account for about 9 percent of jobs in this industry. Managers ensure that the agency is run effectively, and they often conduct interviews of potential clients and jobseekers. Employment, recruitment, and placement specialists recruit and evaluate applicants and attempt to match them with client firms. Sales workers actively pursue new client firms and recruit qualified workers. Because of fierce competition among agencies, marketing and sales work at times can be quite stressful.

Office and administrative support occupations. About 24 percent of workers in this industry are in office and administrative support jobs. These positions may be either temporary or permanent. Experience in office and administrative support occupations usually is preferred for these jobs, although some persons take special training to learn skills such as bookkeeping. Receptionists greet visitors, field telephone calls, and perform assorted office functions. Secretaries perform a range of tasks, such as keyboarding, producing reports, and answering the telephone, depending on the type of firm in which they work. Medical secretaries make appointments and need a familiarity with common medical terms and procedures; legal secretaries must be familiar with the format of common legal documents. General office clerks file documents, type reports, and enter computer data. File clerks classify and store office information and records. Data entry keyers enter information into a computer data base. Word processors and typists enter and format drafts of documents using computers. Bookkeeping clerks compute, classify, and record transaction data for financial records and reports.

Production, transportation, and material moving occupations. Production occupations and transportation and material moving occupations together account for 40 percent of employment in the employment services industry. Few of these jobs require education beyond high school, although in many of them related work experience is an asset. Others require significant experience and on-the-job training. Highly skilled assemblers and fabricators may assemble and connect parts of electronic devices, while other less skilled workers perform simpler, more repetitive tasks on production lines. Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers transport goods to and from storage areas in either factories, warehouses, or other businesses. Hand packers and packagers wrap, package, inspect, and label materials manually, often keeping records of what has been packed and shipped.

Professional and related occupations. A growing number of temporary workers are specialized professional and related workers, who currently account for another 11 percent of employment. Professional and related occupations include a variety of specialists and practitioners, some of whom require many years of postsecondary education to qualify for their positions. For example, engineers require at least a bachelor’s degree. Other professionals requiring some postsecondary education include registered nurses, who administer medication, tend to patients, and advise patients and family members about procedures and proper care. They usually work in hospitals, but they may be assigned to private duty in patients’ homes. Licensed practical nurses provide basic bedside care to patients. Computer programmers write, test, and maintain computer software, the programs that computers follow to perform functions. While computer programmers are not required to have postsecondary education, formal training is an asset.

Service occupations. Service workers employed on a temporary basis also include a number of health care support occupations. Home health aides usually work in the home of an elderly or ill patient, allowing the patient to stay at home instead of being institutionalized. Becoming a home health aide generally does not require education beyond high school. Nursing aides and orderlies also seldom need education beyond high school, but employers do prefer previous experience. These workers assist nurses with patient care in hospitals and nursing homes.

The remainder of the workers in this industry includes those in farming, fishing, and forestry as well as installation, maintenance, and repair occupations.

Table 1. Employment of wage and salary workers in employment services by occupation, 2006 and projected change, 2006-2016.
(Employment in thousands)
Occupation Employment, 2006 Percent
Number Percent

All occupations

3,657 100.0 18.9

Management, business, and financial occupations

205 5.6 21.9

Top executives

28 0.8 13.9

Employment, recruitment, and placement specialists

70 1.9 11.6

Professional and related occupations

392 10.7 27.7

Computer specialists

70 1.9 31.6


25 0.7 30.4

Engineering technicians, except drafters

18 0.5 27.7

Primary, secondary, and special education teachers

18 0.5 26.6

Registered nurses

95 2.6 26.6

Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses

54 1.5 26.6

Service occupations

376 10.3 25.8

Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants

52 1.4 26.6

Fast food and counter workers

21 0.6 37.7

Waiters and waitresses

47 1.3 26.6

Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners

49 1.3 29.4

Maids and housekeeping cleaners

20 0.6 26.6

Landscaping and groundskeeping workers

28 0.8 11.1

Sales and related occupations

110 3.0 19.6

Retail sales workers

26 0.7 21.5


30 0.8 1.3

Office and administrative support occupations

872 23.8 12.8

Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks

40 1.1 26.6

Customer service representatives

106 2.9 39.2

Receptionists and information clerks

61 1.7 7.0

Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks

44 1.2 21.8

Stock clerks and order fillers

44 1.2 5.9

Secretaries and administrative assistants

129 3.5 11.7

Data entry keyers

54 1.5 1.3

Office clerks, general

183 5.0 12.2

Construction and extraction occupations

178 4.9 22.6


29 0.8 26.6

Construction laborers

91 2.5 26.6

Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations

58 1.6 26.5

Maintenance and repair workers, general

32 0.9 26.6

Production occupations

697 19.1 21.2

Team assemblers

200 5.5 26.6

Machine tool cutting setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic

32 0.9 22.2


24 0.7 32.9

Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers

37 1.0 19.3

Packaging and filling machine operators and tenders

61 1.7 13.9

Helpers--Production workers

120 3.3 18.9

Transportation and material moving occupations

752 20.6 13.0

Truck drivers, heavy and tractor-trailer

42 1.1 26.6

Truck drivers, light or delivery services

26 0.7 26.6

Industrial truck and tractor operators

38 1.0 13.9

Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand

469 12.8 13.9

Packers and packagers, hand

139 3.8 1.3

Note: Columns may not add to totals due to omission of occupations with small employment

Training and Advancement [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

The employment services industry offers opportunities in many occupations for workers with a variety of skill levels and experience. The majority of temporary jobs still require only graduation from high school or the equivalent, while some permanent jobs, such as those in management, may require a bachelor’s or higher degree. In general, the training requirements of temporary workers mirror those for permanent employees in the economy as a whole. As the industry expands to include various professional and managerial occupations, a growing number of jobs will require a bachelor’s or advanced degree.

Some temporary help services firms offer skills training to newly hired employees to make them more marketable. This training often is provided free to the temporary worker and is an economical way to acquire training in important skills such as word processing. Agency training policies vary, so persons considering temporary work should ask firms what training they offer and at what cost.

Advancement as a temporary employee usually takes the form of pay increases or greater choice of jobs. More often, temporary workers transfer to full-time jobs with other employers. Turnover among temporary workers within help supply firms usually is very high; many accept offers to work full time for clients for whom they worked as temporary workers. Some experienced temporary workers may be offered permanent jobs with help firms, such as training others for temporary jobs.

Staff of employment placement agencies and permanent staff of temporary help services firms typically comprise employment interviewers, administrative support workers, and managers. The qualifications required of employment interviewers depend partly on the occupations that the employment placement agency or temporary help services firm specializes in placing. For example, agencies that place professionals, such as accountants or nurses, usually employ interviewers with college degrees in similar fields. Agencies specializing in placing administrative support workers, such as secretaries or data entry keyers, are more likely to hire interviewers with less education, but who have experience in those occupations. Staffs of professional employer organizations include professionals in human resources management, payroll, risk management, legal services, financial management, employment compliance, and administration.

Although administrative support occupations, such as receptionists, usually do not require formal education beyond high school, related work experience may be needed. Sometimes, staff experienced in administrative support occupations advance to employment interviewer positions. Most managers have college degrees; an undergraduate degree in personnel management or a related field is the best preparation for these jobs. Employment, recruitment, and placement specialists often advance to managerial positions, but seldom without a bachelor’s degree.

Outlook [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Employment change. Employment services has been one of the fastest growing industries in the Nation. Although future job growth is expected to continue at a faster-than-average pace, this growth will represent a slowdown from the very rapid growth of the 1990s. The industry is expected to gain about 692,000 new jobs over the 2006–16 projection period. Wage and salary employment in the employment services industry is expected to grow 19 percent over this period, compared to the 11 percent growth projected for all industries combined.

Temporary help agencies, the largest sector within employment services, should continue to generate the most new jobs in this industry. This growth will be spurred by businesses in need of workers to manage seasonal and other temporary increases in their workloads, demand for specialized workers, and those businesses seeking to expand without incurring the initial costs associated with permanent employees.

Employment in professional employer organizations is expected to grow in response to demands by businesses for changes in human resources management. The increasing complexity of employee-related laws and regulations and a desire to control costs, reduce risks, and provide more integrated services will spur more businesses to contract with professional employer organizations to handle their personnel management, health benefits, workers’ compensation claims, payroll, tax compliance, and unemployment insurance claims. Businesses are expected to increasingly enter into relationships with professional employer organizations and shift these responsibilities to specialists.

Employment placement agencies are expected to continue growing, but not as fast as temporary help services or professional employer organizations. Growth in these agencies stems from employers’ increasing willingness to allow outside agencies to perform the preliminary screening of candidates and the growing acceptance of executive recruitment services. However, online employment placement agencies operate without employment counselors and need fewer administrative support workers. Job postings on employer Web sites; online newspaper classified ads; and job matching Internet sites operated by educational institutions and professional associations compete with this industry, thereby limiting employment growth.

Job prospects. Increasing demand for flexible work arrangements and schedules, coupled with significant turnover in these positions, should create plentiful job opportunities for persons who seek jobs as temporary or contract workers through 2016. In particular, suppliers of medical personnel to hospitals and other medical facilities should continue to fare well, as demand for temporary health care staffing grows to meet the needs of aging baby boomers and to supplement demand for more health care services throughout the country. Also, businesses are expected to continue to seek new ways to make their staffing patterns more responsive to changes in demand. As a result, firms increasingly may hire temporary employees with specialized skills to reduce costs and to provide the necessary knowledge or experience in certain types of work.

Most new jobs will arise in the largest occupational groups in this industry—office and administrative support, production, and transportation and material moving occupations. However, the continuing trend toward specialization also will spur growth among professional workers, including engineers and health care practitioners such as registered nurses. Managers also will see an increase in new jobs, as government increasingly contracts out management functions. In addition, growth of temporary help firms and professional employer organizations—which provide human resource management, risk management, accounting, and information technology services—will provide more opportunities for professional workers within those fields. Marketing and sales representative jobs in temporary staffing firms also are expected to increase along with competition among these firms for the most qualified workers and the best clients.

Earnings [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Industry earnings. In 2006, earnings among nonsupervisory workers in employment services firms were $13.76 per hour and $453 per week, lower than the $16.76 an hour and $568 a week for all private industry.

Earnings vary as widely as the range of skills and formal education among workers in employment services. As in other industries, managers and professionals earn more than clerks and laborers. Also, temporary workers usually earn less than workers employed as permanent staff, but some experienced temporary workers make as much as or more than workers in similar occupations in other industries. Earnings in the largest occupations in employment services appear in table 2.

Table 2. Median hourly earnings of the largest occupations in employment services, May 2006
Occupation Employment services All industries

Registered nurses

$30.89 $27.54

Employment, recruitment, and placement specialists

19.10 20.40

Customer service representatives

11.74 13.62

Office clerks, general

10.53 11.40

Construction laborers

9.90 12.66

Production workers, all other

9.38 11.97

Team assemblers

9.20 11.63

Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand

8.69 10.20

Helpers--production workers

8.63 9.97

Packers and packagers, hand

8.04 8.48

Benefits and union membership. Most permanent workers receive basic benefits; temporary workers usually do not receive such benefits unless they work a minimum number of hours or days per week to qualify for benefit plans. Only 2 percent of workers in employment services are union members or are covered by union contracts, compared with about 13 percent of workers in all industries combined.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section] Back to TopBack to Top

Links to non-BLS Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

For information concerning employment in temporary help services, contact:

For information about professional employer organizations, contact:

For information about employment placement agencies, contact:

  • National Association of Personnel Services, P.O. Box 2128, The Village At Banner Elk, Suite 108, Banner Elk, NC 28604.

More information about many occupations in this industry, including the following, appears in the 2008-09 Occupational Outlook Handbook:

NAICS Codes [About the NAICS codes] Back to TopBack to Top


Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2008-09 Edition, Employment Services, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/cg/cgs039.htm (visited September 17, 2008 ).


Last Modified Date: March 12, 2008