A story in the March 16 Maryland Weekly incorrectly described a Gaithersburg company, In Plain English, as a temporary help service. The firm contracts with writers for services to corporate clients.

When Gaithersburg resident Shirley Gray decided to reenter the job market last year, she felt "obsolete" because it had been 12 years since she last held a job, as an office worker.

"I wanted to go back to work, but I didn't know how," Gray said. At the suggestion of some friends, Gray signed up as a clerical with a temporary help service company in her neighborhood, Manpower Inc. After several job assignments, she landed a full-time job with Manpower as a sales representative.

Gaithersburg resident Ruth Rowe, on the other hand, had spent the past 12 years as an administrator with the NUS Corp., first in Pittsburgh and then at its headquarters in Gaithersburg. Last year, after she was laid off from her $20,000-a-year job, Rowe signed up with a temporaries office in Wheaton, Goodfriend Temporary Services.

Rowe was able to start immediately as a word processor. As a temporary assigned to a bank in Bethesda, Rowe now earns approximately $15,000 annually, which she says is helping to finance the start ot her own writing/editing/photography business. There is a 20-minute commute from her home in the Diamond Farms subdivision of Montgomery County to work each day, and, when necessary, she can take time off to attend to her free-lance business, she said.

Though the employment services here refuse to say how many people they are finding jobs for, statistics nationally indicate that temporary employment has doubled in the past decade. The national Bureau of Labor Statistics' personnel supply services survey shows that employment through temporary help services is up by 30,000 in the past five months across the country.

The peak of temporary employment was in 1981, when 596,000 were employed nationwide by the services, and has stayed at about that level since then, the bureau said. High unemployment is behind the increase in temporary work, a bureau spokesman said.

In December, there were 169,943 unemployed persons in Maryland, or 7.9 percent of the work force, state statistics show. Prince George's County had 20,326 (5.2 percent) unemployed; Montgomery County had 12,031 (3.6 percent); Howard County had 2,540 (4.5 percent), and Charles County had 1,643 (3.9 percent).

"There are more people coming in now who are unemployed than there were five years ago," said Joan Ellis, office manager for Goodfriend Temporary Services office in the Wheaton Plaza North Office Building.

Ellis believes there would be more applicants if unemployed persons understood their rights to benefits.

"We aren't getting the right publicity," she said. "They unemployed workers fear they will lose their unemployment benefits if they go to work as temporaries . What they don't realize is that they can get partial or extended benefits and even have a chance to get their foot in the front door of a potential full-time employer."

Wages for temporaries range from about $3.50 an hour to around $12 an hour, with word processors averaging $8, the services say. Most temporary help services also say they offer employe benefit packages that include hospitalization, vacation and holiday pay.

"In recruiting new corporate clients, I always remind them of the economic advantages of hiring a temporary employe," said Debbie Marzouk, branch manager for TAD Temporaries.

Marzouk says that many applicants are not seasonal workers. "I get a lot of writers, editors and business and professional types who have now turned to temporary clerical work as something to fall back on," she said. "I'm also seeing a lot of laid-off government workers and retirees who are looking for something to tide them over financially."

Some unemployed professionals and skilled workers are able to take temporary job assignments in specialized areas such as technical engineering, writing, drafting and data processing.

"We have a list of 100 different job positions, ranging from bartender to dock worker," said Sam Sacco, public relations director for the National Association of Temporary Services Inc. of Alexandria, a 350-member association of temporary help services nationwide. "But there is a greater demand for light industrial workers, technical workers like engineers, draftsmen and tech writers, particularly in the metropolitan area," Sacco said.

In addition to technical workers, Sacco listed requests for paralegals, researchers, writers, editors and photographers. Among those temporary help services that offer these specialized workers are Editorial Experts Inc. in Northern Virginia, Creative Options in downtown Washington, and more recently, In Plain English, a temporary help service of writers and editors that opened in Gaithersburg.

However, most temporary help services in the area place more emphasis on clerical jobs and, more recently, word processing and data processing.

"There will always be a need for a good typist," said Nana Chandonet, an owner of Manpower Inc. "But there is a great demand for word processing right now because it's a new art."

Goodfriend's Joan Ellis reports that word processing and data processing account for 80 percent of her firm's business.

"And there's a lot of competition between temporary help services because of word processing," Ellis said. "There's also a lot of different types of equipment that workers have to know how to operate."

Some temporary help services with branches in suburban Maryland are: Manpower Inc., Goodfriend Temporaries, TAD Temporaries, Career Temporaries Inc., Temporary Resources, Kelly Girls, Dunhill of Rockvill, Olsten and Contemporaries.