Work-Seekers Hope For Holiday Spirit as U.S. Stores Expand: Jobs
Phil Lubov wore his favorite striped blue tie and brought a stack of resumes, aiming to land a holiday-season sales job to replace the retail position he lost in May. Part-time journalism teacher Gabe Walker said he arrived early, trying to boost his income.
Both were among more than 600 hopefuls at the Ocean County Mall holiday job fair in Toms River, New Jersey, last month, waiting to speak with 25 employers looking to fill 250 temporary and full-time positions. The registration line stretched out the door at noon when the fair began.
“It’s not easy out there, but I don’t want to give up,” said Lubov, 65, who said he’s spent 40 years working in retail and has been looking for a job and collecting unemployment benefits after the footwear company he worked for downsized. For Walker, 41, this was his first time looking for a sales job. “I could use the extra money, so we’ll see what happens,” he said.
Thousands of job-seekers across the U.S. such as Lubov and Walker are looking to bolster their employment prospects as some major retailers, from Kohl’s Corp. (KSS) to Toys ‘R‘ Us Inc. (TOYS), announce plans to take on more temporary workers than last year. The trend for the industry is less robust, with hiring in November and December increasing at most by 2.9 percent, compared with 7.9 percent last year, as projected sales growth weakens, according to the National Retail Federation.
Holiday sales will rise 4.1 percent to an estimated $586.1 billion, below the 5.6 percent gain a year earlier, according to the NRF, based in Washington. Retailers will add between 585,000 and 625,000 temporary hires this year, compared with 607,500 in 2011. The International Council of Shopping Centers forecasts hiring in October through December will rise 0.4 percent, compared with a rise of 0.8 percent last year.
The rate of holiday-job growth reflects U.S. economic growth, said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at the NRF. Consumer spending, adjusting for inflation, stalled in August and the economy expanded at a 1.3 percent annual rate in the second quarter, less than the 1.7 percent previously estimated, according to the latest data released from the Commerce Department.
Still, any increase in jobs is welcome, said Chris Varvares, senior managing director and co-founder of Macroeconomic Advisers LLC in St. Louis. The unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September after hovering above 8 percent for 43 straight months.
The economic impact of the holiday season is a “definite plus: It helps profits, it helps employment and to the extent it does both of those things, it can help to create a virtuous cycle of improved consumer confidence and then stronger spending down the road,” he said. “It definitely puts a shot of income into the economy that if we were missing, we would notice.”
The holiday shopping season is the most important time of year for retailers. November and December sales make up nearly one-fifth of the industry’s annual sales and can account for as much 40 percent of an individual retailer’s annual revenue, according to the NRF.
Same-store sales in September rose 3.9 percent for more than 20 companies, excluding drugstores, tracked by research company Retail Metrics, based in Swampscott, Massachusetts. Specialty-apparel chains advanced the most, up 5.6 percent, and department-store sales increased 1.4 percent.
Stores across the U.S. have started to announce seasonal hiring plans. Macy’s Inc. (M), the second-biggest U.S. department- store chain, said it will add about 2,000 more workers than the 78,000 it hired last year. Toys ‘R’ Us, the world’s largest toy retailer, said it plans to employ 45,000 temporary staff, up 5,000 from last season. Kohl’s, the third-largest department- store company, said it will add more than 52,700 people, a more than 10 percent jump from 2011.
Companies such as electronics seller RadioShack Corp. (RSH) and The Gap Inc. (GPS), the biggest U.S. specialty-apparel store chain, have begun promoting seasonal job openings, said Don Firth, president of AllRetailJobs.com, an online job board for the retail industry based in North Miami Beach, Florida.
“The big stores are already putting advertisements up there,” he said. “We are already seeing a lot more traffic coming to our site.”
Online shopping has created another segment of holiday hiring as distribution centers and delivery services add temporary workers to keep up with shipping demands. This year, holiday online sales are projected to increase 12 percent, compared with a 15 percent rise in 2011, according to Shop.Org, a division of the NRF. Last year, Internet holiday sales reached a record $37.2 billion, up 15 percent from 2010, according to ComScore Inc., a Reston, Virginia, based Internet data company.
“The game changer is e-commerce,” said Chris Christopher, director of U.S. and global consumer-economics research at IHS Global Insight Inc., in Lexington, Massachusetts. “Where you might see strong temporary hires outside the retail channels is in the couriers, like UPS and FedEx, to handle the onslaught of increased e-commerce sales,” he said.
Last year, United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) hired 55,000 seasonal workers, 10 percent more than the prior year, and FedEx Corp. (FDX) added 20,000, an 18 percent increase. UPS said it will release its holiday hiring plans for this year in late October. FedEx hasn’t given a time frame for its projections.
Other employers are adding fewer seasonal workers this year, having held onto more of last year’s hires. Target Corp. (TGT), the second-largest U.S. discounter, said about 30 percent of its holiday hires in 2011 stayed with the company year-round. It plans to add 80,000 to 90,000 workers compared with 92,000 last year.
Turning a part-time holiday job into a year-round opportunity is common, according to Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, in New York. “You sort of expect a seasonal hiring surge, then they all disappear, but that’s not the case,” he said.
Alannah Caulfield, 20, a sophomore at Monmouth University in New Jersey, is one such hire. She took a temporary position last year at a Famous Footwear store, a division of St. Louis- based Brown Shoe Company Inc. (BWS), at Ocean County Mall, and her boss asked her to stay on after the holidays.
“They were really working with me and my schedule, so how could I not?” Caulfield said. She has held a part-time position at the store for the past year, working mostly on weekends to accommodate her class schedule.
This year, 43 percent of retailers surveyed by Hay Group said they will have more permanent workers and fewer seasonal workers, compared with 19 percent last year. The report, in its sixth year, includes U.S. retailers such as Ann Inc. (ANN) and Chico’s FAS Inc. (CHS)
“Last year we saw a lot of the retailers we work with take 20 to 30 percent of their seasonal applications and turn them into permanent positions,” said Maryam Morse, national reward practice leader in Dallas at Hay Group. “This is a fabulous time to try to take something seasonal and turn it into something permanent.”
Standing in line at the Ocean County Mall job fair, Chris McGurk, 33, said he and his wife are unemployed and expecting their first child in November, so he’s hoping the holidays will bring such prospects.
“I will take part-time work, something to get my foot in the door,” said the Lakewood, New Jersey resident. “I’ll take anything right now.”
As for Lubov, he’s still waiting to hear back from employers at the fair. He wants a full-time job but said he would be willing to accept part-time.
“The unemployment that I’m collecting runs out Dec. 29, so I’m getting a little bit concerned,” he said. “I’m just trying to find someone who would value the experience I have.”
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