What's the difference between a contractor and a temp?

In the world of staffing, the words "temp" and "contractor" are often used interchangeably. But in our experience, there are some differences between the two.

The word "temp" conjures up the old stereotype of the lower paid worker provided by a staffing agency. Temps often fill in for employees on vacation or to bridge the gap while a company replaces someone who has quit. Companies also turn to temps for seasonal help, and they are often used for spikes in production in manufacturing environments.

While there is certainly still a place for temps in the American workplace, companies are increasingly in need of a flexible group of highly skilled workers with a technical or professional background to work for specific periods of time for crucial projects and deadlines or to ramp up for spikes in business. In these situations, employers often turn to recruiters to find these more specialized candidates.

These workers don't seem to fit the mold of the traditional "temp."  Therefore, they are more often referred to as contractors.  They should not, however, be confused with 1099 independent contractors.  In this context, contractors are not self-employed like 1099 independent contractors but rather are W-2 employees of a third party, such as a contract staffing back-office.  

Unlike temps, who are typically blue collar or entry-level office (secretarial) workers, contractors can be found in nearly every industry and in positions leading all the way to high end executives.  They generally are higher-paid than temps and are utilized for longer periods of time.  For instance, the average contract length for a contractor employed by Top Echelon Contracting is nine months.


Temps and contractors are similar, but they have different roles in today's workforce.  We are finding that the use of contractors is getting more and more popular as companies seek more flexibility in the current uncertain economic environment.

Debbie Fledderjohann is the President of Top Echelon Contracting, Inc.

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Comment by Noel Cocca on November 10, 2011 at 10:13am

Thanks for the post Debbie....great point.  Temp can have a negative meaning for some.  I use 1099 folks a lot and they are some of the best "employees" I have ever had....


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