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Retailers already scrambling for holiday workers

Reema Khrais Sep 14, 2016
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Faced with a low unemployment rate and a boom in online shopping, retail companies are fiercely competing for workers. 
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The holiday season may still feel far away, but it’s already started for retailers and delivery companies.  Many of them have been on the hunt for seasonal workers since the summer.

Companies will need to hire extra  “warehouse drivers, transportation individuals, logistics professionals, and then all of the technical experts,” said Jim Link, chief human resources officer at the staffing firm Randstad.

At some distribution and fulfillment centers that handle online orders, hiring quadruples during the holiday season. 

Most weeks, the staffing agency Hire Dynamics places about 4,000 people in jobs, said CEO Larry Feinstein. During the holiday season, that number is closer to 6,000.

“My biggest worry is can we fill all the orders? Can we get the right talent for the demand that’s out there?” he said

The right talent–and often the most difficult to get–are workers with technical skills, like forklift drivers and people with experience in IT.

“In this world, where technology is taking over, a warm body is not gonna cut it,” Feinstein said.

With e-commerce sales expected to increase by double digits, Feinstein says he’s also looking for workers to staff call centers.

Considering that unemployment is at five percent, all these extra workers could be hard to find. So, Feinstein is broadening his search, recruiting at high schools, technical colleges and fairs (not the job kind).

“We’ll come to a fall festival and we’ll get creative and give out popcorn and hotdogs,” he said. “Let them know we’re looking to hire people.”

In cities like Memphis and Louisville, where delivery companies have major hubs, competition for workers is fierce. That’s good news for workers, said John Haber, CEO of supply-chain consulting firm Spend Management Experts.

“If I were a laborer, one of the major things I’d be looking at is who’s going to pay me the most,” he said.  

In some markets, wages could go up by about 20 percent, Haber said. And that’s not the only thing that’ll cost employers.

Sometimes it takes a month for employees, like customer service people, retail clerks and drivers, to get trained.  

“That’s the face to the customer and that’s their brand,” Haber said. “And so those people need to have training and be buttoned up.”

That’s especially important now, said Steve Goldberg, president of retail firm The Grayson Company.

“The delivery promise has been shortened and as we’ve seen shortened to almost to same-day promises,” Goldberg explained.

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