Turkeys and frenzied shoppers might be far from people’s minds as summer weather refuses to budge in some parts of the country, but that hasn’t stopped retailers from starting the search for holiday workers.
Leading the pack is Kohl’s Corp., which began its recruitment drive for a 90,000-strong temporary army in the midst of a hot and sticky July. Target Corp. followed suit last month, putting the call out for more than 130,000 seasonal hires for its stores and distribution centers, up from around 120,000 last year, while Macy’s is on the lookout for 80,000 and Gap Inc. a smaller-than-usual 30,000 across all its brands.
Amazon.com will be hot on their heels, expected to unveil its seasonal hiring plans shortly. Last year, it advertised around 100,000 holiday positions.
But with news on Friday that the U.S.’s unemployment rate is hovering at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent and with job openings across all industries already topping seven million and 865,000 in the retail sector, will companies be able to fill all these positions or will they find holiday workers out of stock?
Gad Levanon, chief economist at think-tank The Conference Board, for one, thinks employers will have their work cut out for them. “Finding qualified workers is likely to get more difficult,” he said after digesting the latest jobs numbers.
Andrew Challenger, vice president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., agreed, especially if last year is anything to go by.
Its analysis of government figures found that despite a record number of hiring announcements for the 2018 holidays, retailers only added 625,600 jobs in the final quarter of the year — the lowest number since 2009.
“It’s possible that retailers pulled back after their announcements, but I think even more likely is that they had a very difficult time finding people to fill those roles. And the labor market is only tighter this year than it was last year,” Challenger said.
His prediction? Seasonal hiring will stagnate or fall slightly.
Vicki Salemi, a career expert at recruitment site Monster, believes that the tight labor market is the reason why many companies are beginning their searches so early.
“I think they’re realizing ‘OK if we wait we may not have as many qualified applicants’ so it’s in everyone’s best interests to post the job now and have the job seekers apply and interview now,” she told WWD.
Some are even holding so-called recruitment marathons, where they hope to hire thousands of workers in just one day. Gap, for example, plans to hire as many as 5,000 associates during a one-day hiring event in all Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta and Janie and Jack stores.
As well as starting early and recruitment marathons, retailers also are having to once again attempt to lure potential employees with a raft of benefits and higher pay this coming holiday season amid the tough competition.
Amazon has already put itself in a strong starting position in the plight to attract workers, boosting its minimum wage for all U.S. employees, including those at its Whole Foods grocery chain, to $15 an hour last November.
Target, meanwhile, is offering $13 an hour to seasonal workers, up from $12 last year, in addition to in-store discounts, while at Kohl’s they’ll get flexible scheduling, weekly paychecks and a 15 percent discount.
Also in the battle with retailers for holiday workers are delivery firms like UPS. It is looking to hire about 100,000 seasonal employees and is offering students the chance to earn up to $1,300 toward college expenses, in addition to their hourly pay, for three months of continuous employment.
“The main lever that employers can pull to increase recruitment is the wage. We saw Amazon raise their minimum wage. That puts an enormous amount of pressure on all other retailers,” said Challenger.
“Perks is another way of getting around that — just adding to the total compensation package. We’ll continue to see employers getting creative and continuing to add to those benefits,” he added.
Andrew Flowers, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, said: “It’s a tight labor market so these holiday jobs employers are trying to fill are going to have to be competitive with other jobs, maybe full-time jobs that are also out there.”
He is more optimistic than some, though, with the job site’s research finding that interest in holiday postings is at a five-year high. In August, holiday job searches per million job searches were up 11 percent compared with August 2018.
Stephen Herzenberg, executive director at economic research and policy organization Keystone Research Center, is also confident that retailers should be able to successfully navigate the tight labor market, with the right use of perks such as flexible working.
“It is a bit more of a sellers’ market when it comes to people working over the holidays that it has been, but if companies are smart about it they’ll still be able to hire people if they understand the labor market situation,” he said.
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