Retailers will get the pick of the litter this holiday season as more people than usual are looking for jobs.
But some companies aren’t sure if they will need to fill as many positions during the November/December crunch. The September 11 terrorist attacks and the slowing economy have left some uncertainty about holiday spending this year.
“This is a time when most companies are being more cautious because they don’t know what’s going to happen this season,” said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc., a nationwide outplacement consulting firm. “They’re more concerned about the drop in consumer spending.”
United Parcel Service is not looking for as many seasonal employees this year as it did in 2000, based on the anticipated decline in volume, a UPS spokesman said. The delivery service plans to hire 1,000 people in the Washington metropolitan area in November and December.
Bloomingdale’s plans to bring temporary sales help onto the floors in mid-November instead of early November, expecting that customers will do their holiday shopping later than usual this year.
The cautious holiday hiring plans are a big change from past years when retailers struggled to find temporary workers in a tight labor market.
The nation’s unemployment rate in October rose to 5.4 percent, according to the Labor Department. In the last year businesses have cut 2.2 million jobs and the unemployment rate has risen 1.5 percentage points.
“Retailers are not going to have [to] pay a premium to fill the spots,” said Bob Kenzer, chief executive of Kenzer Corp., a recruiting firm in New York. “It’s going to be the first time in a long time they will have the pick of the crop.”
Despite the uncertainty of holiday spending this year, some retailers are sticking to their original hiring plans and bringing on as many employees in November and December as they have in the past.
“We’re going into this season as cautiously as everyone else is,” said Theo Killion, vice president of human resources for store operations at the Limited/Intimate Brands. “We don’t have a crystal ball … but we’re optimistic there is going to be a Christmas this year.”
As a result the Limited and Intimate Brands, two affiliated companies, plan to hire a combined 75,000 employees for the holiday season about the same as last year. The workers will be dispersed throughout the companies’ stores, which include Express, Limited, N.Y. & Co., Victoria’s Secret, White Barn Candle Co. and Bath & Body Works.
“The flow [of applicants] is better than a year ago,” Mr. Killion said. “Our managers are absolutely seeing a greater number of applicants and a large part of it [is because] more people need jobs.”
Target stores in Reston and Sterling, Va., which have typically had a harder time filling holiday positions in the past, are getting more applicants than usual, said Tina Machorro, store manager at Target on Jefferson Davis Highway in Alexandria.
Target officials said they have had no intention of lowering the number of seasonal employees they are hiring, which is typically about 50 to 80 workers at each store, said Douglas Kline, a spokesman for the discount retailer.
The Alexandria Target, however, is in the process of bringing on 250 seasonal employees, who will all be hired before Thanksgiving.
The number of employees needed at that store is based on the volume of business there, said Miss Machorro, who is not worried that the store won’t need all the employees this year.
“We haven’t seen the drop in sales that other retailers have,” she said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.