Remembering College Days and Temp Staffing Work

Remembering College Days and Temp Staffing Work

Some of best jobs I had during college were with staffing companies. Like most students, we had free time at irregular hours, 4 hours one morning, another 4 hours the next afternoon or a full day on a weekend or even mid-week.The companies did not care as long as we were on-time and hard working. If we were not the job evaporated quickly.

Usually, we worked on commercial sites including lots of retail as I recall. Assembling and installing shelves for a new store, stocking them, pricing merchandise, unloading trucks, removing trash, hauling 2×4’s for the carpenters and wire, electrical boxes, and conduit for the electricians.

Sometimes we got to be an assistant to the electricians or carpenters, but we were too dumb to pay careful attention and learn something. I have wished many times that I had,since so many opportunities have presented themselves over time. I guess what I did best was,“run for supplies”.

Also, after a first trial,no one would let me,ever again, to measure, cut, and nail in 2x4s. I would measure 4-5 times, cut 3 times, discard, then pick up a new unblemished one and star again. It could have gotten very expensive!As an electrician helper it was not just expensive but dangerous!

Forklift driving was also not one of my specialties. One time I drove some broken shelves into the back of a tractor trailer. Suddenly. The trailer doors closed, and I was locked inside. Almost immediately the tractor pulled away from the dock. The truck traveled some thirty miles before my screams and poundings were heard.

The driver dropped me off at a diner in the middle of nowhere. I had no money even for a cup of coffee. I hitch-hiked back to my college, arriving sometime after midnight. They docked my pay $50 to ferry the forklift back to the job site.

I am sure anyone who has been in the Temps business for even six months has seen workers like me. “unskilled” was much too kind.

But I could always make myself useful doing the “grunt” work and they paid me! That was one of the best things about the job. If you worked a full day, you got paid, in cash, at the end of the day.

I remember those little brown vertical envelopes with your name on the front and your net pay sealed inside. It must have been quite a project to pay 50 people in cash every day!

Today, at many temp jobs,paying workers daily is much more efficient thanks to the development of staffing software.Now they simply issue you a debit card when hired and load it electronically at the end of each pay period or workday. No physical counting dollars or making change, filling envelopes, sealing them, putting names on each,and finally driving to the job site to deliver.

Getting paid daily in cash was a great motivator for all of us.We were the classic and perennially “poor college students”. We started out to work in the morning “flat broke” but at the end of the day we had date money, movie money, gas money, money for beer, pizza, hamburger and fries at our favorite diner or pub. We were rich!

Another new experience I liked about many of those Temp jobs were the “lunch wagons”. They were always there from early in the morning until after lunch time. In Winter they were there before dawn. If you got to work early there was hot coffee and fresh donuts to start the day. Later, maybe a soda or candy bar for those twice a day, 10 minute “breaks”. And, of course, they were always there during our half-hour lunch.

Compared to the type of jobs we usually had during high school, these temp jobs had the “look and feel” of real jobs. What the actual world of work looked like. It also provided us with motivation to finish our college education and get a job where you could buy a car, build our own houses. Have a few kids.

It did not occur to us that many of the men we worked with (they were mostly men), made a good living as electricians, carpenters, plumbers, supervisors, or having a little business of their own like the guys who operated the “lunch wagons”.

So, there was a certain “classism”or bias that we were not really aware of at the time. Unfortunately, those attitudes are still with us but I do think they are getting better.

Just a few years ago I was reading a magazine article (which soon became a book) about the experience of a guy who got a PhD in Political History,then got a job at a political “Think Tank”. (Since modernThink Tanks are usually of a certain persuasion, like the “Heritage Foundation” (Conservative) or “Brookings Institution” (Liberal), if you join one or another of them you need to “think” in a certain direction).

Anyway, this PhD guy, named Matthew Crawford quit his job at a political Think Tank after only 5 months and opened a one-man motorcycle repair shop in Virginia.

He soon wrote a book about his thinking and experience which he called; “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work”.  A good and very important book.

I remember him saying in that book (he has written others) that the intellectual challenge of his PhD work and that of his days at the Washington Think Tank,were no greater than the intellectual challenge involved in the daily diagnosis and repair of motorcycles.

His books point us in a direction away from classism, bias, error, and, equally important, the possible “missing out” of that kind of work which just might make us happier people.

Working for a Temp agency with its unbelievable variety of jobs and people can also teach us, and our younger workers especially, some eloquent lessons in the value of all kinds of work and of working people no matter what job they may be doing.

Stay Safe!