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We're hiring! (for a few months, anyway)

There was good news recently from heavy equipment maker Caterpillar: The maker of diggers and bulldozers recorded stronger-than-expected quarterly profits and said it expected sales to grow in the coming year.

What's more, the company, which shed jobs by the thousands over the course of the recession, announced that it's been hiring.

"So far this year, due to higher demand, we have increased our workforce by more than 15,000 people globally, including more than 6,000 full-time employees and 9,000 people added to our flexible work force," Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman said in a statement.

Did you catch the part about the flexible work force? If you are one of the millions of people desperate for work in this country, you probably wondered, "Flexible for whom?"

The very weak economic recovery is causing some companies to start hiring again, cautiously. But with economic conditions still uncertain, many are choosing to add temporary jobs, with no promise of a permanent position that would offer a worker job security and benefits.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment services added 28,000 jobs in September, with temporary jobs accounting for most of that increase.

It's normal in an economic recovery for companies to add temp jobs before committing to full-time positions, and it often makes sense. That's especially true for a publicly held company such as Caterpillar, which is eager to please shareholders and is going to be nervous about spending a lot of money on new hires if they aren't sure that sales growth will keep up.

But as the nation continues to slog through this very weak economic recovery, there are some concerns that we are entering the world of perma-temps, where companies hire people for contract jobs and never give them the full benefits associated with permanent jobs, such as health insurance, vacation and retirement plan.

Time will tell when and how fast permanent jobs return. Many companies also are gearing up to add hundreds of thousands of temporary holiday positions, and some may lead to permanent posts.