Retailers expect to hire up to 500,000 holiday workers

Retailers expect to hire up to 500,000 holiday workers

October 30th, 2011 by Carey O'Neil in Business Around the Region

Ginnia Barringer builds a 9-foot tree at The Pool Place. Hiring is beginning to pick up for the holiday season.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

It's been Christmastime since the beginning of September as far as Mary Ann Twitty is concerned.

That's when the Covenant College art school grad started dressing trees and crafting garlands.

"I try to incorporate art with this lovely glitter plastic stuff," she said while hot-gluing ribbons and ornaments together. She stopped every so often to pick the materials off her skin, clothes and hair. "I don't think I'll ever get rid of glitter. I'm going to find it in 20 years."

Twitty is one of five people hired each year to transform The Pool Place into a forest of Christmas trees, wreaths and lights called The Christmas Place.

For weeks now, employers across the country have been looking to hire up to 500,000 holiday-season workers, according to National Retail Federation projections. This year's hiring plans for Christmas are holding steady from 2010, when retailers brought on 495,000 temporary employees to deal with the holiday sales rush.

"We definitely bolster our numbers to reflect the volume," said Todd Bridges, human resources manager of the Gunbarrel Road Target. "Across the board, the volume in the whole store starts to go up."

But hiring likely won't hit pre-recession levels. Between October and December of 2007, Tennessee added more than 16,000 retail jobs, according to Tennessee Department of Labor statistics. Over the same period last year, fewer than 7,000 retail jobs were added.

And 2010 employment was low to begin with. There were 330,000 retail jobs in October 2007 and only 307,800 last year.

"The last few years have not been typical," said Jeff Hentschel, spokesman for the state Department of Labor. "A lot of the big employers were doing more with less."

Fewer positions means employers are able to take their pick of job applicants. Even with the area's new Amazon fulfillment center hiring 3,000 seasonal employees, Marty Smith, general manager of the J.C. Penney store at Hamilton Place mall, said he has a surplus of applicants for the 50 positions he's trying to fill.

"There are certainly more than enough applicants," he said. "The challenge is just working through the number of applicants we have."

The last two months of the year are the two biggest for retailers. About 30 percent of retail sales are done during those months, according to mall spokeswoman Catherine Wells. The mall opens earlier and closes later to accommodate shoppers.

J.C. Penney, Target and other retailers typically increase their staff by 20 percent to 30 percent to address the holiday changes, Wells said. They and other retailers typically start hiring in October, allowing for some training time before the holiday season kicks into gear in November.

Several of those applicants are looking for a part-time job to earn extra holiday money, Smith said.

But a lot of them are unemployed and happy to find a job, even if it's temporary. Once Christmas is over, October hires will gradually be laid off until stores such as J.C. Penney are back down to pre-Christmas levels, usually by the end of January.

Many temporary workers hope for permanent jobs, but history shows the outlook is bleak. The Tennessee retail industry has shed about 10,000 jobs between December and January each year for the past decade. Between last December and January, retail jobs dropped by more than 13,000.

So those with jobs count their blessings. Twitty works constantly during the lead-up to Dec. 25. Whether decorating The Christmas Place or individuals' homes and businesses, she can scrape together enough money to support herself while she focuses on art when her monthslong Christmas finally ends.