JILPT Research Report No.160
Working Styles and Career Situations in Agency Work:
Multiple Analysis on the Survey of Agency Workers, Agency Clients, and Temporary Agencies

May 31, 2013


Research Objective

In this report, working styles and career formation in agency work are analyzed by categories, based on data from surveys of temporary (dispatching) agency businesses, agency client businesses, and agency workers conducted in February 2010. The categories examined are career paths, training and vocational ability development, wages, and conversion to regular employees, gender gap problems, and involuntary employment.

Research Method

The data analysis of a questionnaire survey was conducted with temporary agency businesses, agency clients, and agency workers in February 2010.

Key Findings

1.Career paths of agency workers

Chapter 2 focuses on the career paths of workers currently engaged as agency workers who first found employment during the economic recession from the mid-1990s onwards. The aim of this research is to analyze what path brought them to become agency workers, as well as the correlation between their first job content and their current one.

As a result of this analysis, some agency workers were found to have undergone a career transition from non-clerical to clerical occupations through the working style of agency work. In particular, one may imagine a situation whereby female graduates with a junior college, university, or higher educational background see agency work as a stepping stone from non-clerical to clerical occupations, and grasp it as an opportunity to advance to the next stage of their careers while gaining practical experience. On the other hand, many agency workers engaged in non-clerical work are male junior and senior high school graduates. They are thought to choose agency work as temporary employment not requiring a vocational ability to the extent of accumulating practical experience, and as a means of earning a sufficient wage concerning hours worked.

From the above, it may be concluded that, under present circumstances, the working style of agency work serves a certain function as an opportunity for those who started in non-clerical occupations to switch to clerical careers. As for the career progression of non-clerical occupations, however, it could only be described as extremely difficult.

2.Training and vocational ability development of agency workers

Chapter 3 focuses on how the agency workers’ work motivation is influenced by training and vocational ability development at the agency client. Firstly, a tendency can be perceived for workers who felt capable of career development in agency work to have a relatively low vocational experience level. In other words, agency work is thought to function as an opportunity to cultivate initial careers. Meanwhile, as well as directly contributing to the worker’s skill level and career formation, vocational ability development at the agency client is also found to contribute greatly to improving the motivation to make an effort when working at the agency client. Improvements to working hours and wages have tended to be seen as important in order to raise the work motivation of agency workers. In reality, however, this seems not to be the case; rather, the importance of creating opportunities for forming vocational ability has come to the fore. In the future, ways of providing jobs that contribute to vocational ability development at agency clients will need to be considered.

In Chapter 4, we focus on whether training at the temporary agencies will give agency workers jobs that require higher ability. The 26 job categories specified by Cabinet Order under the Worker Dispatching Act are sometimes called the “26 Specialized Job Categories.” The hypothesis that training by temporary agencies is adequate if these jobs are professional is verified. As a result, temporary agencies that carry out skill-specific training thought to be of a relatively high level of specialization and rank their ability and skills, tend to dispatch agency workers for specialized occupation, mainly in healthcare and nursing field. On the other hand, this kind of correlation is not seen in agencies mainly concerned with The 26 Specialized Job Categories, raising doubts about this categories’ specialization level.

3.Wages of agency workers

Chapter 5 turns the spotlight on the wages of agency workers. Jobs are categorized as clerical, specialized, and manufacturing; a wage function is derived for each, and factors regulating wages (hourly amounts) are analyzed. As a result, different characteristics were seen in different occupations. In particular, negotiation factors, the relative difficulty, and change factors of the work, had a significant impact on wages in specialized jobs, less so in clerical jobs, and not at all in manufacturing jobs. Conversely, it became clear that wage negotiation factors had a strong effect on wage rises in clerical and manufacturing jobs. Clerical and manufacturing jobs involve a lot of routine work, and there are no wage tables that gauge an evaluation of attitude to work and changes in job content in the first place. This makes it difficult to identify changes in work objectively. It may be that, in a sense, primitive individual negotiation (in which the individual actively negotiates for a change in work content) has a positive effect on wage rises.

4.Conversion of agency workers to regular employees

In Chapter 6, matching data from surveys of agency clients and agency workers are used to clarify the characteristic of “poaching” by agency clients, based on the state of deployment of agency workers, differences in working styles, and awareness. As a result, agency clients engaged in poaching tend to be seen in the financial and insurance industries and large companies, and it was revealed that this is hiring that focuses on mid-career and work-ready hiring. Agency clients engaged in poaching tend to treat agency workers similarly as regular employees while conversely regarding them as expendable when demand shrinks. Meanwhile, workers working in businesses engaged in poaching tended to be in clerical jobs, not to be the main breadwinner, to have a long period of continuous work for the agency client, to feel that “there are regular employees who do the same work” as themselves, and to work long overtime hours, among others. Finally, the agency workers’ working style orientation was divided into “work” and “private life,” and the respective levels of satisfaction were analyzed, revealing a tendency for dissatisfaction to be more substantial among those oriented toward a private life-centered working style.

5.Gender gap problems of agency workers

In Chapter 7, survey data on agency workers are used to study the respective income and employment stability of clerical work (mainly involving females) and specialist, technical and manufacturing work (mainly involving males), as thus far noted, as well as their respective potential for vocational ability development. In terms of wages (income), males are polarized between relatively lucrative specialist and technical work and relatively lower manufacturing work and light manual labor revealing a wide disparity in wages (both hourly and yearly). By contrast, there is less wage disparity between different jobs among females, who are concentrated in low-wage brackets. On the stability of employment, judging by the length of contracts and periods of dispatching, there is a clear division into longer contract periods(one year or more) and longer dispatch periods (the same) for males in specialist and technical jobs, medium-term contracts (between 3 months and 1 year) and relatively long dispatch periods of females in clerical jobs, and finally a mixture of short-term, medium-term and long-term positions mainly held by men in manufacturing jobs and light labor. From the perspective of career development, a tendency was seen for career development to be possible in agency work and for such jobs to be provided in full-time dispatch assignments with open-ended contracts in specialist and technical jobs, among young, highly-educated males.

6.Involuntary employment of agency workers

Chapter 8 analyzes factors determining agency workers’ satisfaction with their employment and their willingness to continue, based on wages and contract. Furthermore, taking account of differences in the awareness of agency workers as to whether their employment is voluntary or involuntary, and the relationship with the staffing agency, it analyzes the impact these have on satisfaction levels and willingness to continue. From the perspective of determinant factors behind levels of satisfaction with agency work and willingness to continue among involuntary agency workers, it was found that, high wages lead to satisfaction, though this does not mean that they want to continue agency work. Among those engaged in agency work for involuntary reasons, willingness to continue is determined by more stable employment forms, more extended contract periods, and vocational ability development leading to the future. By contrast, workers engaged in agency work for voluntary reasons are satisfied with working in this style; the relative length of the contract and aspects of the employment form have no impact on their willingness to continue. In other words, it would be reasonable to consider that agency work is supported as a flexible working style offering a balance with their private lives.

Policy Implications

  1. As a means of career formation for young people whose first job has been in non-regular employment, measures are needed to convert them to regular employees using agency work as a stepping stone.
  2. Measures required to promote agency workers’ training by agency client companies: OJT at agency clients will be effective for the career formation of agency workers. Agency clients’ workplaces need to have an aspect of vocational ability development as a means of improving employment motivation.
  3. To improve remunerations for agency workers, they need to take action for positive wage negotiations. Simultaneously, the agency needs to assess job performance and difficulty levels, create a career ladder, and wage range.
  4. While the format of conversion to regular employees currently consists of poaching in many cases, advance notice must be given of the conditions for conversion to regular employees, the length of time until that point, and other matters, and a suitable working style secured.
  5. In policy issues concerning non-regular labor, it is vital to promote policy discussion with a rigorous distinction between voluntary and involuntary employment, including survey analysis.

Policy Contribution

A contribution to policies on non-regular employment and the amendment to the Worker Dispatch Act is expected.


  • Cover – Preface – Authors – Contents
  • Chapter 1: Category Analysis Concerning Agency Work – Analytical Tasks and Findings
  • Chapter 2: Career Paths of Agency Workers after the “Employment Ice Age” – From the Perspective of Job Conversion from Non-Clerical to Clerical Occupations
  • Chapter 3: Agency Workers’ Vocational Ability Development and Employment Motivation
  • Chapter 4: Training by Temporary Agencies and Work Speciality
  • Chapter 4: Annex: Improving the Ability of Agency Workers and Work Speciality
  • Chapter 5: Analysis of Agency Workers’ Wages by Occupation
  • Chapter 6: What is the Difference Between “Temp-to-Perm” and “Poaching”?
  • Chapter 7: Working Conditions and Career Formation in Agency Work – Analysis in Terms of Gender, Occupations, and Career Development Patterns
  • Chapter 8: The Impact of Agency Workers’ Wages and Contract Type on Satisfaction and Willingness to Continue –With Focus on the Voluntary and Involuntary Reason Type
  • Appendices: Survey Method and Survey Questionnaire

Research Categories

Project research “Survey Research on Directions for Non-Regular Workers Measures and Other Strategic Labor and Employment Policies”

Subtheme “Survey Research on Diverse Working Styles in Regular and Non-Regular Employment”

Research Period

FY2012 (Survey was undertaken in FY2010)


Akiko ONO
Vice Senior Researcher, The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (JILPT)
Deputy Senior Research Officer, JILPT
Policy Research Supervisor, Economic and Social Research Institute (formerly Vice Research Director-General, JILPT)
Researcher, JILPT
Researcher, Economic Policy Institute for Quality Life (formerly Research Assistant, JILPT)
Research Assistant, JILPT
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Studies, Doshisha University

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