There’s a Problem With All the Holiday Hiring Retailers Plan to Do This Year — Many People Don’t Want These Jobs

Scores of retailers are beefing up holiday hiring this year in anticipation of a season unlike any other — however, a new study suggests there may not be a large enough pool of interested candidates to fill these roles.

A report released this week by business consulting firm Korn Ferry indicates that nearly half (47%) of retailers are having a tough time attracting employees for the upcoming holiday season. Researchers surveyed more than 50 major retailers in late September and learned that while nearly a third (29%) of them are offering incentives to new hires — such as bonuses, premium pay and increased employee discounts — smaller firms are struggling to lure in candidates.

“The need for talent varies greatly from retailer to retailer, with specialty stores such as clothing boutiques finding it difficult to compete against big box retailers that pay better,” said Craig Rowley, a retail expert at Korn Ferry. “The effects of last spring’s shutdown due to the pandemic are still impacting many retailers, as they laid off employees who didn’t come back when stores re-opened. Hiring managers will need to be creative to attract seasonal workers.”

Indeed, Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods and The Gap are among the boldface names to boost their hiring numbers and/or offer new employee incentives this year citing heightened digital demand amid the global health crisis. Walmart, for example, announced in September its plans to employ 20,000 people for seasonal jobs at its e-commerce fulfillment centers across the United States. The roles, which include order fillers and power equipment operators, have a starting hourly rate ranging from $15.75 to $23.75 based on location, position and schedule.

Generally, ripple effects from the COVID-19 crisis have hit the retail industry hard. However, as fashion firms and shopping malls struggled with government-mandated shutdowns, companies like Walmart, Amazon and Target have managed to thrive due to their scale, strength in e-commerce and their designation as essential retailers.

For other companies, temporary store closures forced them to implement furloughs and layoffs. And, as they sought to bring back employees amid loosening restrictions, many such firms faced the dual challenge of competing with a record high federal unemployment benefit ($600 a week on top of state benefits) as well as worker concerns over store safety. (While those federal unemployment benefits expired at the end of July, Congress is negotiating a new stimulus plan that could reintroduce those payments and continue them through the end of January.)

For the upcoming holiday season, the Korn Ferry study found that level of optimism surrounding sales depends on the type of retailer: 72% of retailers that were deemed “essential” and allowed to stay open at the beginning of the pandemic expect an increase in sales during the holiday season, with 29% expecting business to be up more than 10%.

However, 44% of “non-essential” retailers, including specialty clothing stores, expect business to decline year over year, with 17% expecting sales to be down 10% or more. In anticipation the slowdown, 31% of these non-essential retailers plan on hiring fewer holiday employees in 2020.

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