Calling all elves! If this year is anything like Christmas past, United Parcel Service (UPS) could hire as many as 90,000 part-time, temporary employees -- nearly the size of Proctor & Gamble's entire global workforce -- to help ship an anticipated 325 million packages for the holidays. With December just around the corner, hiring is now in high gear at the world's largest parcel shipper for package handlers, driver-helpers, and other staff to help keep its operations humming nearly around the clock for the next two months.
Although the pay is modest to start -- $8.50 to $14 an hour -- the positions can lead to something permanent at the company, which has 350,000 employees. This traditional yearend hiring effort is serious business for Atlanta-based UPS, not the least because it wants to keep its customers happy, especially as a late or lost package during this hectic season can often mean a lost customer. Even though the bulk of the holiday temps don't go on payroll until November and December, executives start the planning process many months earlier.
Martin Taylor, manager of corporate workforce planning, first got a job with UPS as a part-time package handler in 1970, when he was in high school. And like many at the company (UPS's outgoing CEO Jim Kelly started out as a driver), Taylor has, over the years, steadily moved up the ranks. BusinessWeek Online's Eric Wahlgren recently chatted with Taylor about how the company manages its holiday miracle -- and about what has changed since the terrorist attacks of September 11. Following are edited excerpts of their conversation:
Q: How do you do it? How do you hire so many people in such a short period of time?
A: We have two excellent technology vehicles out there. One is our employment Web site, which is in addition to ups.com. Of course, the Internet provides access 24/7, 365 days a year. And for those who don't have Internet access or who want to make a phone call, we also operate a 24/7, 365-day-a-year phone line: 1-888-WORKUPS. Both allow the job seeker to select a location and, in many cases, go through a process that eventually would allow them to even schedule an interview.
We also have a large network of college recruiters. We advertise in a number of college newspapers and in many periodicals geared to students. We also conduct our own job fairs, and we work very closely with the community and with a number of nonprofit organizations. We have a number of welfare-to-work hires that we have brought to UPS.
Q: So you have many pools to draw from. Let's say this year was going to be like past years, when you've hired around 90,000 people. [UPS officially says it does not know for sure how many part-timers it will need this year of global uncertainty, but that it will definitely hire tens of thousands.] How many people do you have to interview to net this many temporary workers?
A: About one out of two on an interview-to-hire ratio is what we run during the holiday season.
Q: Then how many human-resources people do you need to interview as many as 180,000 people?
A: Well, we're very decentralized in our employment process. And because of that, each of our operations around the country will use its existing HR staff [to interview] and might supplement that staff through the use of expanded hours, understanding that this is our busy season. Because we don't hire everyone at one time and because the hiring process is spread over a three-month period, we don't need a huge number in addition to what we would use throughout the year. [Nationwide, UPS has 2,805 HR staff members].
Q: I'm curious if you've seen a number of laid-off executives or white-collar workers applying for these jobs who might be forced to take temporary jobs as the job market gets tighter.
A: Sure, I think we could have some of that. But it's very difficult to say for certain, since it isn't something we track. Have we hired them? In some cases, yes, absolutely.
Q: How long does it usually take for an employee to get hired after making initial contact with UPS?
A: For some of the positions that we're looking for, we might interview an individual one week and make a job offer the following week. So we have a fairly quick turnaround. Some of those decisions are actually made within the [same] week.
Q: What's your trick for finding quality employees? Is there anything in particular that UPS looks for?
A: We look for individuals who are able to work well in a team atmosphere and who are able to work well with others. We look for individuals who possess an excellent work ethic. I think that's extremely important. For many of our hires, this might be their first job, or their first job that has requirements to be there on time and to be there for a certain number of days per week. So we find that we not only train them how to do a job, but also train them how to deal with the world of work.
Q: How do you manage a workforce that swells by 25% within a short time?
A: During our holiday season, we may reallocate current existing resources. That might mean redeploying individuals who may have a certain expertise...to help manage the group of employees that would come in. For instance, if you think about the driver-helper position, that person is really working with a seasoned driver, in most cases.
Q: Is there anything you're doing differently this year security-wise in light of the terrorist attacks on September 11?
A: We have always taken safety and security very seriously, and certainly, we are going to continue to do so in light of these events. We are working routinely with a number of the appropriate agencies, not only domestically, but around the world, to ensure the safety of our whole employment network. I'm not really at liberty to discuss specifics. [A company spokeswoman says "everyone at UPS is on a heightened state of alert."]
Q: How are you addressing your employees' possible concerns about anthrax?
A: To address the anthrax issue would really get back to security, and again, I hope you can understand our position on that. [The spokeswoman notes: "It is important to keep in mind that the majority of the packages that we handle, unlike the mail system, have been ordered by the recipient and are expected. The vast majority of the packages that go through our system are through known shippers who have an account with UPS or have previously shipped packages with us."]
Q: Jim Kelly, your outgoing CEO, started at UPS as a driver. You started as a part-time package handler. What percentage of these temporary or part-time jobs lead to full-time positions?
A: Individuals who work for us have the opportunity to move into full-time positions based on their length of service or their seniority. Eventually, people could move into part-time permanent or full-time permanent positions based on performance and other factors. We have a number of employees who have taken advantage of our promotion-from-within policy. That includes going all the way up into the management ranks. That includes Jim Kelly, myself, and myriad other folks.
You can see that repeat itself over and over, and that policy is still alive and well to this day. I don't have a total number. But I see us continuing with that trend.
Q: So what do all the HR folks like yourself do after the holiday season? Do you go on vacation after hiring -- and then saying goodbye to -- all these people?
A: There's no doubt that for many, there is some well-deserved time off. But we pretty much begin our plans for the next holiday season [in January]. So it starts very, very early.