THE TURBULENT ECONOMY has permanently changed many companies' view of outsourcing meeting planning, says Dawn Penfold, president, Meeting Candidate Network Inc., a New York placement company for meeting planners. Penfold started a new division of her company, the Meeting Temp Jobs Network (www.meetingtempjobs.com), in 2000 when the number of permanent job listings took a nosedive, and she expects the demand for temporary planners to continue even as companies bring back some in-house jobs.

“Companies like hiring temps because they don't have to have the head count and they don't have to have the benefits. It costs an estimated 40 percent to 50 percent above the salary to have a permanent employee,” she says.

“Business owners have to be able to adjust to what the economy is demanding, to look at their business and say, ‘OK, time to shift gears.’”

When Penfold started Meeting Temp Jobs Network, she typically had 100 to 150 permanent positions available at a time. That number is now a fraction of what it was, and placing temporary positions accounts for 75 percent of her business.

Although she has seen permanent searches increasing in the past year, “that doesn't mean we are going to do fewer temps,” she cautions. “It'll still be the same amount, if not more, in terms of productivity. This is going to be a division of our company from now on.”

Penfold has seen the pendulum swing this way a couple of times since she started working as a recruiter 14 years ago. “I've been through two recessions, and the same trend happened in both. You would see it start with companies not replacing people who leave, then hiring freezes, and then … layoffs, and then they would need temporary people, and then no one. Then, slowly but surely, there would be a need to increase the head count.

“We're now seeing that increase in head count, especially in the financial firms, and that's a key area to watch because the financial firms seem to have an idea of what's going on in the economy. Most of the financial firms now are in the mode of hiring temp people, and some are hiring permanent people. So the pendulum is swinging back.”

But it's unlikely that it will ever swing all the way back, Penfold predicts. “I don't think that we will ever get back to 2000. I don't think that period is something that we can measure as a normal economy.”