This Holiday Season, Retailers Will Be Wishing For More Workers

This Holiday Season, Retailers Will Be Wishing For More Workers

10:02am Nov 23, 2015
People do their holiday shopping in Manhattan Mall in New York City in November 2014. Retailers may have a harder time filling holiday jobs this year because of a shrinking pool of workers.
People do their holiday shopping in Manhattan Mall in New York City in November 2014. Retailers may have a harder time filling holiday jobs this year because of a shrinking pool of workers.
Andrew Burton / Getty Images

This month, hundreds of thousands of Americans are starting seasonal jobs. They'll be helping holiday shoppers, who are expected to increase their spending by about 3.5 percent this year.

Some retailers are adding more services like curbside pickup and same-day delivery. Stores will also have more workers on the floor, creating demand for seasonal hires.

That's how it went for Mario Juarez last year. The 20-year-old started as a holiday temp at Target. But after three months, he got a permanent job as a stocker on the overnight shift. He says it was a good way to try out Target.

"It's testing the water. You want to see what it's about, you apply seasonal and then if you like it or not, you can leave," Juarez says.

The National Retail Federation says U.S. retailers are looking to add more than 700,000 jobs this holiday season — about the same as last year.

But finding workers could be harder this time around. The U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to just 5 percent, the lowest in recent years.

"It's people leaving the labor force. People sort of get fed up looking or they just don't want that particular kind of job," says Chris Christopher, an economist for IHS Global Insight.

He says one reason for the unemployment dip is that some workers were discouraged by the recession and have dropped out altogether.

In response, employers must hire from a smaller pool of job seekers. And these days, they need workers who can help boost sales both in the store and online.

National Retail Federation chief economist Jack Kleinhenz says added conveniences and an improved economy are driving hiring. He points to the 650,000 job openings in August to prove his point.

"We haven't seen that in the last 10 years. And there has been a considerable amount of hiring going on," he says.

With more permanent jobs available, workers are passing on seasonal work. Some employers are offering higher hourly pay as an added incentive to lure them back.

Delivery companies that partner with stores are also in a hiring binge. For example, FedEx says it's adding 55,000 temps. That's nearly triple the number from just three years ago.

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Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And as hundreds of thousands of Americans start those seasonal jobs, they'll be helping holiday shoppers, who are expected to increase their spending by about 3.5 percent this year. In Minneapolis, reporter Kaomi Goetz looks at the challenges facing shoppers and retailers.

KAOMI GOETZ, BYLINE: Just before 8 a.m. on a sleepy Sunday morning in suburban Minneapolis, Holly Lafferty sat in her SUV in a parking lot, waiting for Target to open.

HOLLY LAFFERTY: As I pulled in this morning, I thought it's hard to decide where the line between insanity and parenting ends. But I think I found that line this morning, and that's here.

GOETZ: The Edina, Minn., mom wanted to get a jump on the holiday shopping season. She was trying to take advantage of a special toy offer. Lafferty was the only one there. Even so, she worried about potential competitors.

LAFFERTY: Now I'm like if somebody pulls in, I'm going to be a little paranoid. Like, do I have to race in there? Like, that line just keeps escalating, so - I'll remain civilized.

GOETZ: There wasn't Black Friday chaos though, despite stores proclaiming the start of the season weeks in advance. This year, some retailers are adding more services, like curbside pickup and same-day delivery. Stores will also have more workers on the floor, and that creates demand for seasonal hires. And that's how it went for Mario Juarez last year. The 20-year-old started as a holiday temp at Target. But after three months, he got a permanent job as a stocker on the overnight shift. He says it was a good way to try out Target.

MARIO JUAREZ: It's nothing permanent. It's just kind of, like, testing the water. You want to see what it's about. You can apply seasonal, and then if you like it or not, you can leave. It's not going to be a problem.

GOETZ: The National Retail Federation says U.S. retailers are looking to add more than 700,000 jobs this holiday season. That's about the same as last year. But finding workers could be harder this time around. The U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to just 5 percent, the lowest in recent years. Chris Christopher's an economist for IHS Global Insight. He says one reason for the unemployment dip is that some workers were discouraged by the recession and have dropped out altogether.

CHRIS CHRISTOPHER: It's people leaving the labor force. We had some good employment numbers. However, people sort of get fed up looking or they just don't want that particular type of job.

GOETZ: So employers must hire from a smaller pool of job seekers. And these days, they need workers who can help boost sales both in the store and online. Jack Kleinhenz is the chief economist with the NRF. He says added conveniences and an improved economy are driving hiring. For example, this past August...

JACK KLEINHENZ: There were 650,000 openings, and we haven't seen that in the last 10 years. And there has been, you know, a considerable amount of hiring going on.

GOETZ: And with more permanent jobs available, workers are passing on seasonal work. Some employers are offering higher hourly pay as an added incentive. Delivery companies that partner with stores are also in a hiring binge. For example, FedEx says it's adding 55,000 temps - that's nearly triple the number from just three years ago. Back in Minnesota, Carly Hoffman was at Target to pick up a birthday cake. She says she now expects stores to make shopping as convenient as possible, and that can mean blending store visits with online shopping.

CARLY HOFFMAN: I think they're necessary, and I think in theory it's great. But, like, I tried to do that for a friend's baby shower just last week, and they lost my order that I placed ahead of time. So there's still kinks.

GOETZ: But if Target can work them out, Hoffman said she'd shop that way more often. And that means the retailer might have to hire more workers to improve that experience. For NPR News, I'm Kaomi Goetz in Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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