We live in an age in which more and more people are turning to temporary work to make a livelihood. Post-Brexit, the working landscape has shifted significantly and threatens to shift even further. The political turmoil following the referendum (is there going to be a deal? What kind of deal will it be? Were we told the truth about a future outside the EU to begin with?) has resulted in the pound sterling shrinking by 10%. It is estimated that, had the referendum never occurred, the country’s economy would be 1.2% healthier than it is at this moment (The Financial Times). The circumstances surrounding our EU exit are uncertain, and the response to this uncertainty abroad has been to avoid investing in the UK’s economy.
Inevitably, with a dip in the economy come problems with employment, and, when people lose their jobs, they seek a stopgap to stay alive until they find permanent work again. Historically, this is where temporary work has come into its own: as the purview of those who need, rather than want, the work, and who are willing to do most anything. This is also why so many young people go into temp work. According to the 2012 European Labour Force Survey (ELFS), just under 43% of European workers under 25 were in temporary employment, and 37% of those were doing this kind of work because they could not find a permanent job.
As things stand in the UK, it’s accepted to the point of stereotype that temp agencies prefer to employ European immigrants over Britons because their work ethic is seen to be better (The Guardian). The unease following Brexit has hit this facet of temp work too, as politicians on both Leave and Remain camps have called for tighter controls on immigration after Britain and the EU split up. This means that a sizable proportion of the workers whom temp agencies would normally employ will dry up after March 2019 – the date on which the UK leaves permanently. This will likely mean that a lot of talent will be very suddenly removed from the British economy. We end up with a problem: the people who want to do the work won’t be working in the UK, and those who have no other choice may be unqualified or unwilling to do the same jobs.
A phrase you’re likely to have heard if you’ve been talking business on social media recently: “side hustle”. It refers to the act of making money outside of full-time work or education. While many of the people who claim a side hustle are self-employed, for instance by selling items on Etsy, many are also freelance temp workers in professions like copywriting, photography and even social media ambassadorship. The “gig economy”, spearheaded by sites such as Fiverr, means that young people can arrange fixed-price temporary work for themselves without needing to find employment through agencies. However, a vulnerable young person in a desperate economic situation could be exploited by these sites. Though temp agencies charge fees to link workers with clients, and sites like Fiverr often do not, agencies could easily position themselves as a safeguard for the young and/or vulnerable workforce.
Ultimately, if this country is going to get the best out of its temp workers, its attitude (and the attitude of agencies) towards temporary work and those who do it needs to be modernised. In fields which require an awareness of the Internet and new media, the relative youth of the temporary workforce is a huge advantage. Especially in creative fields, the world of work is changing so quickly that, by next year, there will likely be quite a few vacant jobs that don’t exist today. Beyond the stereotypical work in hospitality and bar work, agencies need to stay abreast of the many opportunities which temp work could possibly provide for those who choose it. More people are going to university now than ever before, and the jobs offered through temp agencies should reflect that more people under 25 are qualified for graduate-level work than historically.
Temp agencies have traditionally been a safe and convenient way for young and/or unemployed people to connect with paid work, and emphasising this safety and convenience could breathe new life into the agencies which exist now. Changes like this will result in the attitude of temporary workers towards temporary work agencies changing for the better. If working for a temp agency can be desirable, a lot of the problems with post-Brexit temporary work will be resolved, as temporary agencies become actively sought after by qualified young people who are good at the jobs they do.