Long Island’s Temp Worker Shortage Sharpens

Close up of businessman holding a briefcase
Inflation pushed up temp and permanent wages, but that hasn’t necessarily kept up with expenses. (Getty Images)

We all know that in life, everything is temporary. But when it comes to the workforce, from software developers hired to make apps to warehouse workers, much more than life is temporary. So is a chunk of the workforce.

The temp workforce shortage comes at a time when unemployment itself is at rock bottom – or below. Long Island’s not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 2.7% in May 2023, unchanged from a year ago. Both Nassau and Suffolk counties’ rates also remained unchanged from a year ago. The unemployment rate in Nassau was 2.6% and Suffolk’s was 2.8%. By comparison, New York State’s rate was 3.8% and the national rate was 3.4%, according the state Department of Labor.

The Nassau-Suffolk region has a workforce of about 1,544,300 with 1,502,400 employed and 41,800 unemployed /seeking work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But you don’t have to look far to figure out that beyond the numbers, work is changing, as more people want remote work.

The Long Island temporary workforce neared 13,000 in 2016, before tumbling and then rising again as of 2022 to top 10,342, according to the New York State Department of Labor. But the numbers could be much higher, if there were more candidates to fill jobs.

“There’s been a candidate shortage in the market. Covid-19 amplified that shortage,” Robert Graber, founder and CEO of Long Island Temps, said of temporary workers. “Although workers are returning to the job market, the candidate shortage still persists.”

Inflation pushed up temp and permanent wages, but that hasn’t necessarily kept up with expenses. “Wages have gone up, but inflation is outpacing the wage increase. That makes it harder to recruit and fill positions,” said Graber, whose Westbury-based company specializes in office administration, clerical, and light industrial. “We do see an increase in pay, but we also see an increase in inflation.”

Temps traditionally are only a small slice of the workforce, but project-based work is catching on.

Only 1.2% of the New York workforce or about 116, 000 workers in 2023 was temporary, but 17 percent were part time, according to Smartestdollar.com. In March of 2022, temporary workers made up 2.1 percent of nationwide employment, although by April 2023, that was down to about 1.9 percent, according to Smartestdollar.com. 

But the number nationwide was nearly 7 percent in production, more than 6 percent in transportation and materials moving, and about 3 percent in computer and math, according to the site.

“We’re super busy trying to fill jobs. We have a lot of jobs available,” Graber said of demand in various industries. ”It’s harder to fill the job than to get the job.”

The pandemic prompted some people to retire, shrinking the pool for permanent and temporary workers. 

Still, a wide range of people seek or take temporary work, from college students taking summer jobs to older candidates who retired, lost their job or are simply looking for work. Some fill in for workers on vacation or maternity leave.

“There’s not just one type of temp,” said Graber, whose company has been in business for more than 25 years.

“We get tremendous referrals from our temps,” Graber said. “We have a lot of temps out there. Friends and family.”

The recruiting process has largely shifted online, with Zoom interviews as part of pre-employment screening and selection.

“We do a lot of interviews on Zoom and have people fill out forms online who used to come in,” Graber said. “We have to make the candidate experience easy, so candidates want to work with us.”

Still, he added, temporary placement companies screen and select workers, even if the methodology changed. “We evaluate people the same way we would if we saw them in person,” Graber said. “We interview and look at hard skills and soft skills.”

People with permanent jobs typically won’t leave them for temporary positions, but some workers prefer temporary and/or remote work. More than half of temps worked remotely in 2022, according to Staffing Industry Analysts. 

“A lot of workers prefer to work remotely, whereas a lot of employers prefer an in-office employee,” Graber said. “A hybrid schedule seems to be the compromise that works best for both parties.”

Gig work increased in popularity, as it provides flexibility. “Gig work is really serving as a consultant, determining what jobs you want to take,” Graber said. “In the gig economy, you make your own schedule.”

Temp-to-perm has become a big component of the temp sector, as companies evaluate workers while deciding whether to offer permanent jobs. “It’s almost like a trial period where the employer and the employee get to know each other,” Graber said.

Employment laws govern offering benefits for temporary workers who can be hired for shorter or longer periods that to many may feel permanent.

“We have positions that could last a day or so for a fill-in. Someone has a planned vacation day,” Graber said. “We’ve also had positions that lasted multiple years.”