Does holiday work lead to full-time jobs?

It’s been about as good a year for holiday jobs as during the boom years before the Great Recession, when 700,000 to 750,000 seasonal retail jobs were added from September to January in a typical year from September.

It’s been about as good a year for holiday jobs as during the boom years before the Great Recession, when 700,000 to 750,000 seasonal retail jobs were added from September to January in a typical year from September.

According to analysis by the global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, 2013 is shaping up to be slightly weaker than 2012 -- down 2.3 percent for the October-November period, with December’s numbers yet to be released. But 2012 was a banner year for holiday hiring, and John Challenger expects 2013 will come close to matching last year’s performance.

Those seasonal temps -- many of them working full-time -- have been hired at companies such as Nordstrom, Amazon, and Kitchen Kaboodle, a voluminously stocked housewares, kitchen-gear and furniture chain with several stores in Portland, Oregon. The chain employs approximately 50 sales staff year-round, and beefs that up with approximately 18 seasonal hires from September through the post-holiday sales in early January.

Last year and again this year, 23-year-old Max Levy has landed one of those seasonal jobs. He’s working full-time and making $10/hour. He says he’s “on hiatus” from community college, living with his mother, so the pay is fine for him right now.

“I am doing stock, and then I help with the register, customers, whatever they need,” he says. The biggest challenge is mastering a vast array of merchandise -- from obscure kitchen utensils to living-room furniture. He’s let the store owner know he’d like to make this more than a temporary job. “I said I’m not doing anything after the holidays, so if you need any staff afterward, I’ll gladly stick around.”

Levy’s boss, Kitchen Kaboodle co-owner John Whisler, says he’s definitely watching how Levy and others perform, sizing them up for permanent jobs -- assessing how they deal with customers, co-workers, and merchandise.

But for Levy and a couple of his fellow-seasonal temps to land jobs, some current workers will probably have to leave. And that’s true across the industry: most of the 700,000 to 750,000 holiday sales, order-taking and stocking jobs will be shed by February. Net retail employment isn’t going up precipitously, but rather growing apace with the economy and population as a whole. And retail employment isn’t growing as a percentage of all employment (it’s held steady at just over 11 percent since before the recession).

Fortunately for holiday retail workers, turnover is extremely high in the industry -- 75 percent in some chain stores. So there’s plenty of opportunity for the temps to move in.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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