Hiring of seasonal holiday workers already has begun

Christmas is more than three months away, but the quest to hire seasonal workers already has begun.

The largest number of openings will undoubtedly be in the retail sector, and some retailers are optimistic that the economic climate is improving enough for them to hire more workers than last year.

"We're increasing our head count by 5 percent this year, or roughly 225 people," said Mark Rodriguez, chief executive officer of Hickory Farms Inc.

John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based outplacement consulting firm that produces an annual forecast on seasonal hiring, said he is "cautiously optimistic" that hiring for the October-December holiday hiring period will be up slightly from 2011, when 718,500 seasonal workers were hired.

That was a 14.5 percent increase in hiring over 2010.

"We have seen some positive indications that the restaurant and hospitality industry is up; people are beginning to pay off some of the debt they have and they'll have a bit more discretionary income," Challenger said. Another positive sign: Spending on back-to-school items was better than expected.

In 2007, the last year before the most recent recession, the Toledo, Ohio, area added 2,081 seasonal retail jobs, according to the labor bureau's statistics. However, in 2008 the number fell to 1,065 hires, and in 2009 it was 1,519 hires.

But Challenger said he expects a 1 to 5 percent increase in hiring this year, which is consistent with slow but steady growth in the economy.

"It feels like the economy's not growing very rapidly, probably under 2 percent, so it seems unlikely that we'll see explosive growth in seasonal hiring," he said. "But layoffs are very light and companies are in slow-growth mode."

Hickory Farms, which sells specialty food products -- usually from temporary storefronts or mall kiosks -- annually employs about 5,000 seasonal workers nationwide. Rodriguez said that as his firm has studied the 2012 holiday season, he sees potential for increased sales over 2011, either through additional consumer spending or by capturing additional market share.

"We don't think spending will be gangbusters, but we think we'll take more market share," he said. "We believe we'll get a bigger share of the wallet regardless of what overall spending is going to be."

Other retailers have yet to settle on a forecast for the holiday season and are waiting a little longer to see how the trends will go before deciding on their number of seasonal hires.

Costco, for example, knows it will be adding extra workers for the holidays, but it isn't sure exactly how many it will need until early October.

With the growth of online shopping, the need for delivery of items ordered online has grown, increasing business for delivery firms such as FedEx and UPS.

Officials at FedEx said they have not firmed up their seasonal hiring plans yet. But UPS has determined its hiring needs and will begin sorting through seasonal hiring applications in about a week and start interviewing in October.

"We want to be ready to go on Nov. 1," said Greg Kelley, a work-force planning manager for UPS. Kelley said the delivery service's needs this season will be similar to last year's, even though it expects an increase in business thanks to more online orders.

"If you look at the year-to-year growth of online shopping ... you know that that piece of the retail business is just booming and even though we will be more efficient, we still will hire a large number of seasonal employees," Kelley said.
 

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service
 

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