Stores and potential employees alike are hoping for a more robust holiday hiring season than the record lows of 2008. Some stores are already adding extra help for the long road to Christmas, although many may wait to see how their sales turn out before bringing on more staff.
Wednesday may have been the first day of fall, but it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas for some retailers.
Nationally, this year’s seasonal hiring is expected to be an improvement over 2008. It could hardly be worse — 2008 saw the lowest seasonal employment growth in nearly 20 years. Some stores have already started hiring staff with an eye toward the holiday shopping season, while others are preparing for a flood of applications.
Steve Grappe, general manager at American TV Appliance & Furniture, has hired five new employees with plans to hire five more in the next month or so. The store doesn’t specifically do seasonal hiring because the new employees aren’t hired for a specific time period, but the staff usually expands as the winter holidays approach.
“Last year, the recession really hit in October so we ran lean at Christmas,” he said. “We’re going to be better-staffed than last year, if nothing else because we won’t be as short-handed.”
In 2008, retail employment grew by just 384,300 from October through December, according to non-seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was nearly 50 percent fewer than in 2007, when retailers added 720,800 workers during the holiday months.
The 384,300 seasonal workers hired in 2008 represent the lowest holiday hiring figure since 1989, when retailers added just 380,500 workers.
In the Rockford metro area, retailers employed 17,200 people in December 2008, 700 fewer than the previous December, according to Illinois Department of Employment Security. In 2008, retailers added 700 jobs from October to December; in 2007, it was 1,000.
At the Rockford Target store, a few hires had been added for the back-to-school shopping season and interviewing for holiday positions hasn’t started yet, said Kyle Ritz, an executive team leader.
“From what I’ve seen, the applications start in the beginning of August, and then a lot of hiring starts in October,” he said. “We’re always accepting applications. Even people who applied six months ago will be considered for holiday positions, so there’s a constant stream of people kind of in the background coming in.”
Kiki Benson, owner of catering firm A Movable Feast, hires workers on an as-needed basis for the holiday parties she books. A few parties have already been booked, and she’s working on other gatherings now.
“I feel hopeful that we will be able to match our numbers from last year,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a record-breaking year, but I was actually surprised that we had a great holiday season last year.”
Many stores may wait to see how their sales numbers turn out before deciding to bring on extra staff, said John Challenger, chief executive officer of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.
“The good news for retailers is that if there is a need for late hiring, the labor pool is flush with qualified candidates who undoubtedly would be eager to earn some extra holiday spending money and take advantage of employee discounts,” he said.
Sean F. Driscoll can be reached at (815) 987-1346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.