Employers use agency workers to fill staffing gaps, finds survey

Most employers use agency workers to cover gaps in staffing rather than as a cheaper alternative to permanent staff, according to a study from The Resolution Foundation.

The think tank’s survey of 500 HR decision makers at private sector firms already using agency workers finds most firms use agency workers for traditional reasons, such as filling gaps in staffing (46%) or as a last resort (19%). This is consistent with firms claiming covering holidays and absence was a key reason for using agency workers, cited by 43% of firms as one of their main reasons for hiring agency workers. 

The findings also show firms aren’t turning to agency workers as a cost control device overall, with 29% believing they are cheaper or more expensive than direct employees.

However, just over a third of firms (34%) appear to be using agency workers more strategically to fill as many posts as possible or for particular parts of their workforce.

Firms that are heavily reliant on agency workers (with over a quarter of their workforce made up of agency workers) were more likely to take a strategic approach (42% of such firms compared to 18% of firms that hired less than 5% of their workforce via agencies). Those firms that have increased their use of agency workers in recent years were also a third more likely to use agency workers strategically.

Firms that were agency worker reliant were much more likely to believe agency workers were cheaper than directly employed staff (39% compared to 26% of firms that hired less than 5% of their workforce through agencies). And while covering absence was still their chief motivation (36%) for using agency staff, managing uncertain or seasonal demand (31% and 30% respectively) and using agencies to outsource training and payroll were key considerations for this group.

Meanwhile, one-quarter of firms (25%) indicate they plan to increase their use of agency workers over the next five years, and over half (55%) expect to maintain current usage.

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