Amazon and UPS to each hire 100,000 workers for seasonal surge

E-commerce giant to add 4,700 workers at fulfillment centers across Tennessee, including Chattanooga and Charleston

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Amazon's CHA1 fulfillment center is seen on June 25, 2020.

Amazon and UPS announced plans this week to each fill 100,000 seasonal job openings at their companies as the shipping and e-commerce giants ramp up for the holiday shopping season.

In trying to fill the seasonal jobs, both companies are emphasizing the career opportunities that can grow from seasonal jobs.

Amazon, which plans to add 4,700 seasonal workers at its fulfillment centers across Tennessee, including centers in Chattanooga and Charleston, touted more than 35,000 promotions among its operations workers so far in 2020, many of whom started in seasonal positions. Some 30,000 employees have taken classes through the company's Career Choice program for new careers in commercial trucking, IT security, nursing and aircraft maintenance.

Amazon's 2020 seasonal hiring will be about half the 200,000 workers the company hired in anticipation of 2019's holiday peak, but more in line with seasonal hiring levels from 2015-18. The company pays a minimum of $15 an hour to all employees.

The current holiday push follows a September drive to hire 100,000 permanent operations employees and the hiring of 175,000 temporary workers earlier this year to confront the pandemic-driven spike in demand. Some 70% of those seasonal jobs were converted to permanent positions.

UPS, which reported a 13.5% jump in same-day shipping volumes this year over last, said more than a third of its U.S. workforce began in a seasonal job.

Seasonal hiring by shipping, warehousing and e-commerce companies reflects changed pandemic shopping patterns.

"We're seeing increases in demand, especially related to e-commerce and that entire supply chain," said Richard Wahlquist, president of the American Staffing Association.

While some of the hiring activity is seasonal, the higher rate of conversion to full-time work bodes well for the labor market long-term, he said.

Walmart said it is hiring for some 20,000 openings in its e-commerce fulfillment centers after pandemic hiring of more than 500,000 employees. Target is aiming for 130,000 hires, with an emphasis on staff to provide same-day services such as curbside pickup of online orders, and store safety measures.

With purchases of everything from sweatpants to toilet paper set to hit a holiday record, companies that order, pack and ship goods are moving up seasonal hiring earlier in the year and converting gig positions to full-time roles at a faster clip than before, according to employers and staffing agencies. Many are also raising wages and lowering the bar on education and experience requirements to get people in the door.

While overall employment across the U.S. is still nearly 11 million below pre-virus levels, the warehousing and storage industry is one of the few sectors where employment is actually higher than before the pandemic: 1.25 million people were on payrolls in September, about 46,000 more than in February.

That's a welcome sign consumer spending should help support a gradual economic rebound, with e-commerce cushioning the shortfall from bricks-and-mortar retail. Online sales are expected to jump as much as 35% to about $196 billion in the coming November-January period compared with a year earlier, according to Deloitte, though economists' forecasts for overall holiday spending are mixed.

Job postings for transportation are up 10% in the third quarter, compared with 2.5% last year, according to LinkUp, a job-listing and analysis firm. United Parcel Service Inc. is adding more than 100,000 seasonal workers, a slight increase from last year, after already hiring tens of thousands earlier this year. FedEx plans to hire 75,000, 27% higher than last year. Inc. plans to open 1,000 warehouses across the country and hire 100,000 seasonal workers to meet demand.

"People are migrating toward industries that are experiencing shortages," such as warehousing, from the hospitality or restaurant sectors, said Michael Englund, chief economist of Action Economics LLC. "There's going to be a permanent component to this but the question is: What does the end of this pandemic look like? Will people have permanently shifted behavior?"

Todd Bavol, chief executive officer of Integrity Staffing Solutions, noticed clients in the logistics industry cutting experience requirements and boosting recruitment budgets, signaling higher wages.

For Wonolo, a jobs platform that connects about 500,000 people with mostly gig work, the holiday rush came early. Job postings have soared: in the year through August, there were nearly six times more e-commerce openings for the holidays than last year. Importantly, the average wage increased 16% to $14.18.

Shipfusion, an e-commerce firm that handles warehousing, packing and shipping needs for small and medium-sized businesses, more than doubled its fulfillment operations staff this year to 160 people, about 50 of them full-time - also double last year's level.

"We've definitely experienced a lot of growth," the firm's director of internal operations, Erin Pollock, said by phone. "As soon as Covid hit, we were experiencing the same kind of numbers as Black Friday."

- Compiled by Dave Flessner