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.