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The Rise of the Supertemp

Harvard Business Review (05/01/12) Jody Greenstone Miller; Matt Miller

So-called “supertemp” professionals—including chief financial officers, attorneys, and consultants—increasingly are trusted by companies to do work that previously would have been done by permanent employees or established outside firms. According to research by McKinsey, 58% of U.S. companies expect to use more temporary arrangements at all levels or their organization in the coming years. Currently, 16 million Americans are working independently, according to research by MBO Partners, and that number is expected to rise to 20 million over the next two years. Although separating out highly paid professionals from the numbers is difficult, if the assumption is made that they account for just 10% of the total (the share of American adults with graduate degrees), then the U.S. may soon have three million supertemps.

Several companies focus exclusively on high-end temporary talent. Axiom, for example, supplies 650 temporary attorneys to nearly half the Fortune 100. Traditional executive recruiters are becoming involved as well: Lauren Doliva, the managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles’ new Chief Advisor Network, says Baby Boomers’ retirement will shrink the supply of executives even as demand holds steady—increasing the need for temporary talent.