Informal learning of temporary agency workers in low-skill jobs: The role of self-profiling, career control, and job challenge

2015 – This article in Career Development International describes the research from TNO/UVA by Paul Preenen, Sarike Verbiest, Annelies van Vianen and Ellen van Wijk. In this article they argue that the influence that career control and self-profiling have on informal learning is mediated by job challenge. This mediation model was tested on a sample of 722 temporary agency workers performing low-skilled jobs. The results found support for the model.

The recent economic crisis has led to temporary agency workers being more vulnerable. They find it more difficult to find a permanent job. Their agencies invest little in training and education. Especially low educated temporary workers suffer from this lack of training. New skills and knowledge is required for them to advance their careers. Due to this lack of investments temporary workers must rely on informal learning, the acquirement of new skills through their work tasks. This article investigates how job challenge, career control, and self-profiling, add to informal learning.


When agency workers perform tasks with high job challenge they are more likely to obtain new knowledge and learn new skills. Job challenge is defined as work that is new, requires new skills, tests one’s skills or resources, gives an individual more freedom and demand a higher level of responsibility. Agency workers that plan their career and/or engage in self-profiling may also have a higher chance of being assigned to more challenging jobs. Agency workers who plan their careers are likely to actively seek challenging jobs to advance their careers. When an employer is seeking a candidate for a difficult task they are more likely to assign it to a temporary worker that really knows how to present his or her skills. Because of the aforementioned, individuals higher on career control and self-profiling may be more likely to perform tasks with a high job challenge, and consequentially learn more from it.

Research questions

Do higher career control, self-profiling and job challenge lead to more informal learning? Do career control and self-profiling lead to more jobs challenging, and does this subsequently lead to more informal learning? 


Analysis of the data shows that career control and challenging work had a positive influence on informal learning. A light  relationship was found for self-profiling and informal learning. Both career planning and self-profiling were found to be positively related to job challenge. From this we can conclude that temporary workers who are higher in career control and self-profiling learn more from their work because their work is more challenging.

Preenen, P.,  Verbiest, S.,  Vianen, A., & Van Wijk, E. (2015) Informal learning of temporary agency workers in low-skill jobs: The role of self-profiling, career control, and job challenge, Career Development International, 20(4), 339-362.