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Wal-Mart says it's been hiring disproportionately more temporary workers. "Flexible associates," it calls them. Spokesman Dave Tovar says temps allow store managers to provide permanent workers with more reliable schedules.
Online competitors are seeking to upend the temp industry just as Amazon and eBay disrupted retail. Employers spent $1 billion last year hiring workers for short-term projects through online labor exchanges, such as oDesk and Elance, according to Staffing Industry Analysts. That's 67 percent more than in the previous year.
Freelancers in the online exchanges can be evaluated by employers, post portfolios and take online tests to demonstrate their abilities.
Gary Swart, CEO of oDesk, says his clients are mainly small or startup companies. But giants like AOL and Unilever are using the service, too.
When Hans Hess of Arlington, Va., was seeking a lawyer to do a trademark search for his Elevation Burger chain, he turned to Elance. He found a lawyer to do it for under $500.
"When I was using a big law firm, it could cost me $5,000 to get to the point of just filing a trademark," Hess says.
Gigwalk recruits temps for brief projects in retail, merchandising and marketing. Anyone who downloads Gigwalk's app can see pinpoints on a map signifying available jobs nearby.
Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo, used Gigwalk this year to hire workers to check in-store displays of its products to ensure that a seasonal promotion was being handled properly.
"You can hire 10,000 people for 10 to 15 minutes," says Gigwalk CEO Bob Bahramipour. "When they're done, those 10,000 people just melt away."