Temp Firm Pros and Cons

Posted in Boom Town Life

Temp Firm Pros and Cons

Like it or not, “temp” firms (or “staffing” firms) are a part of the fracking boom reality. For those who lack oil and gas industry experience, dealing with a temporary employment firm can be one way to find employment in the oilfield (those who already have experience may be able to bypass temp firms). There are advantages – and disadvantages – to dealing with temp firms within the oilfield business just as in all other businesses. However, they don’t necessarily have the best interests of you – the employee – at heart. Keep this fact in mind when pursuing work via temp firms. Here are some temp firm pros and cons:


  1. Find work fast. It’s possible to find work within hours of walking into a temp firm office. In fracking boom towns like those in Texas and North Dakota, if you’re looking for a quick paycheck, you should visit the temp firms especially if you don’t have rig experience. At the very least, you’ll find work somewhere even if it isn’t a high-paying oil and gas position. If you have a CDL, you’ll be put to work. If you have rigging experience, however, you might do well to avoid temp firms as you’ll be paid less than your experience should allow, unless you need money quickly. At any rate, securing work via a temp firm is a good stopgap plan while you look around for higher-paying gigs.
  2. No upfront fees. All reputable temporary help firms charge fees to the employers seeking workers. (However, they do charge – in a way – those that they provide work for. See ‘the temp firm gets a cut’ below in the Cons section.) The larger temp firms like Manpower, Kelly Services, Olsten, etc. make money not only on fees charged to employers, but also from employee payroll, paperwork, and training services provided to their client companies. You, the walk-in seeking quick work, will not have to pay anything up front. If you are expected to, in fact – then the temp firm you walked into is likely a fraudulent outfit.
  3. Generally little or no downtime between gigs. Should you receive a work assignment that lasts only a few days – it happens – take it. The temp firm will know that you are willing to work and you’ll be able to prove that you can be punctual and flexible. It’s very likely a longer lasting gig (if you want it) will follow any shorter gigs that you are initially assigned to.
  4. Flexibility – sort of. Yes, every employment “expert” loves to tout how temp firms offer scheduling flexibility to their workers. Actually, it depends. I’ve worked for firms that “penalized” me for leaving gigs to take unpaid time off (because, your time off is always unpaid). This has happened to me even after letting the temp firm, and its client company, know for weeks in advance about my needing the time off. And yet, in a handful of situations, I’ve been “rewarded” for my being upfront by finding myself without work upon returning from my time off. And remember: that time off wasn’t paid by either the temp firm or its client. So beware. Perhaps you are willing to work for, say, three months or so – and then you plan on taking a week’s vacation. If you won’t mind the possibility that you’ll be pulled from the assignment as a result of your vacation, then by all means: take all the time off you need. When you return, you can always:
  5. Play agencies against each other. Every large metro area and every fracking boom town has several different temp agencies, with more opening up offices all the time. So if Temp Firm A suddenly “no longer has work” for you, Temp Firm B likely will. There is no law saying that you can’t fill out applications for sixteen different temp firms if you wish. The first agency that calls you with an assignment at a fair rate of pay wins! However, you should spend at least as much time filling out job applications for actual employers which can offer you better pay, job stability, and benefits.


  1. The temp firm gets a cut – from your wages. Though temp firms don’t charge you, the employee, an upfront fee to find you work – they will ding your paycheck. Here’s how: if you are making $18 per hour working on a job site (oil rig or otherwise), it’s common for the temp firm to charge its client something like $22 or $23 per hour to provide you, the employee. While you’ll never know that $4 or $5 per hour is going into the temp firm’s pockets instead of yours, you’re likely leaving money on the table by working for a temp firm. Use temp firms when you are new in town to get money coming in quickly. Then, over time, you should be making the effort to secure employment without the “middleman”.
  2. Can a temp gig become a permanent gig? Yes, of course. The standard has probably changed since I’ve worked for temp firms, but I’ve been told that in some situations if you work at an assignment for 90 days you’ll then be offered a full-time, “permanent” job. (Bear in mind that nothing is really “permanent” in the world of employment.) Having said this, I’ve worked as a temp for well over a year at the same gig without ever gaining “permanent” status. Contract and/or “temp” employment is a growing trend. Many companies prefer to let temp firms handle their personnel issues as doing so is cheaper than maintaining an in-house human resources staff. So just because you’ve been told that you’ll be hired on permanently after you work at a temp assignment for a period of time, it’s by no means a guarantee. You’re better off looking for your own gigs while working as a temp. It’s not in a temp firm’s interest to let you become an actual employee of a client company as it’s $5 per hour gravy train – provided by you – will end.
  3. Clueless receptionists who know nothing about the oil industry. I’ve worked for some temp firms that had some basket cases working for them in the office. Or worse: the office staffers are patronizing as hell. You’ll encounter temp firm staffers who are not the brightest bulbs in the billboard at times. Keep this in mind when sitting in a temp office filling out the reams of paperwork that you’ll be required to complete. Chances are the girl who ends up interviewing you was hired because she adds scenery to the office, not because she’s an expert on wireline procedures. Just go with it. Perhaps her manager is a little more on the ball – and that’s the person you should be calling up and asking for gigs.
  4. Awful orientation videos. One of the worst aspects of signing up to work for a temp firm is having to endure about an hour or two of some of the most horrific videos you’ll ever see. It’s bad enough that you’ll be filling out enough paperwork to fill a room at the Library of Congress, but then you’ll have to learn all about “The Manpower (or Kelly, or whatever) Way”, “Hygiene and You” (probably beneficial for some folks), and “How to Deal With Challenging Customers” (as if you’ll encounter challenging customers in the oilfield). You’ll probably spend around two to four hours in the temp office being “interviewed”, filling out paperwork, and watching terrible orientation videos. All without being paid, unfortunately. It’s just part of the deal.
  5. No benefits. This one is the biggest reason to avoid the temps. While some temp companies claim to offer benefits, they are flimsy at best or non-existant at worst. Assume you won’t be getting goodies like paid vacation or sick days, health benefits, or 401(k) matching plans while you work for a temp firm. Another reason to approach temping as a short-term job solution until you find something more solid.

Temp firms have their place in boom towns, but they are generally “quick and dirty” employment solutions while you continue to look for better opportunities. Perhaps a temp gig will lead to bigger and better things – but this isn’t a sure thing. Use temp firms to get work fast, but try to cut ties to them if a better paying gig with benefits presents itself.