Some of the country’s major retail chains are in trouble this holiday season, closing stores and losing evermore sales to online shopping sites. And yet, hiring of temporary seasonal retail workers is predicted to be about on par with 2016, according to a report by outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas.
That’s in part because companies that warehouse, pack and ship online orders are picking up some of the employment slack left by brick-and-mortar retail. Challenger reports that holiday season hiring for e-commerce retail has risen ten-fold over the past decade — from 24,300 in 2007 to 228,400 in 2016 (which was an 8 percent increase over the previous year).
Amazon has announced it will be hiring tens of thousands of temporary seasonal employees at its fulfillment centers all over the country. One of the places that will be hiring: Amazon's state-of-the-art facility in Kent, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, that sprawls over 800,000 square feet.
“We have more than 3,500 full-time employees working at this facility,” said Amazon spokesperson Nina Lindsey. “And we expect to bring on many more seasonal employees.” A bulletin posted for workers in the center said there would be 2,500 additional temporary workers for the holidays.
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At a similar facility in Portland, Oregon, Amazon is recruiting seasonal associates and offering $12.50 per hour for jobs that require a high-school diploma or the equivalent.
At the facility in Kent, every stage of the order-fulfillment process — from pulling items out of inventory, to tracking, packing and shipping them out on trucks — is highly automated. In one area — enclosed behind fencing where no human workers could be seen — tall carts filled with every conceivable product zipped past each other across the floor, mounted on sophisticated robots.
Lindsey said new recruits needn’t be concerned, though. “The training and onboarding is very easy. They don’t need to worry about programming robots or anything like that,” she said.
For customer-facing retail jobs in brick-and-mortar stores, companies try to find employees with good people skills, who can handle grouchy or rushed customers.
It requires fewer workers, with different skill sets, to fill online customer orders in e-commerce fulfillment centers, said Rod Sides, leader of the U.S. retail and distribution practice at Deloitte.
“Think about the requirements for marketing, analytics — jobs that require a higher level of talent, and thus a higher wage,” said Sides. “In the new model, the labor demand goes down, but the cost probably goes up.”
With unemployment low (4.1 percent in October 2017), there is increasingly fierce competition for high- and low-skilled workers in e-commerce logistics, said Bill Ravenscroft, senior vice president at Adecco Staffing in Austin, Texas. He said this year, employers have been offering “wage increases, completion bonuses for seasonal workers, meals or gas cards or bus passes” to attract employees.
Also, he said, employers are “considering things that they haven’t traditionally been willing to do — changing background requirements or even drug-test requirements, forgoing those — just so they can get these positions filled.”
Deloitte’s holiday-retail survey finds that for the first time, consumers plan to spend more of their shopping budgets online than in stores this year.