Retailers wrapped up in holiday hiring

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Even though some retailers plan to increase their staff by 50 percent during the holiday season, local net job growth is only expected to reach 3 percent, down from 4 percent last year.

While local job growth is forecast to be slimmer this holiday season than it was last year, Colorado Springs retailers are still planning to bulk up for the last months of the year.

Net job growth in Colorado Springs is expected to reach 3 percent in the fourth quarter of this year, down from 4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to Kathy Reeves area manager for employment services company Manpower.

About 13 percent of local employers said they planned to hire more employees this year than they did in 2010. That’s down from last year when 18 percent said they would increase staffing over 2009 levels.

A lot of fourth quarter job growth comes from seasonal hiring for the holidays.

Caly Wagoner, human resources manager for the Target store at 335 N. Academy Blvd. near The Citadel mall, said she will hire seven additional employees. Other Target stores will likely hire more, she said. Her store serves fewer customers than some along the Powers Boulevard corridor.

Teri Putman, general manager of JC Penney at First & Main Town Center on Powers Boulevard, said she will increase the size of her store’s staff by more than 50 percent this holiday season. She normally has about 130 employees.

“In our store alone, we’re going to hire 70 people,” Putman said. “It’s huge. The fourth quarter is huge for us. It is for all retailers.”

Both Putman and Wagoner said they see big spikes in customer traffic and in sales during the months leading up to the holidays.

“We just want to make sure we have enough team members in the right places to make the guest experience a good one,” Wagoner said.

When she hires employees at Target, they are almost always cross-trained to work in multiple different departments so they can help unload a truck when shipments are coming in and the floor is quiet or check customers out when the front of the store is stuffed with shoppers and there’s no new inventory coming in.

“We have so many peak days when we expect to have a lot of customer traffic in the store,” Putman said of JC Penney.

She is hiring about 15 more people this year than she brought on in 2010. She’s starting the hiring now and will continue right through to the last precious days of the season when she’ll bring in the pinch hitters for the biggest bursts of activity.

Retailers collect applications online and at their in-store kiosks. They get hundreds without even soliciting them, Putman said.

People who are interested in picking up holiday work know to go in and apply. But it’s easy to get lost in the digital sea of applicants if job seekers don’t really pay attention during the application process, said Sherman Swafford, business relations and employment development manager for the Pikes Peak Workforce Center.

“Some people think because it’s entry-level, they don’t really have to try at the application,” Swafford said. “But you need to show the employer through your writing that you have a skill set to match what they need.”

He said employers usually include the key words they’re looking for on the application. Applications are sometimes digitally scanned and weeded out based on the presence or absence of those key words.

“If you don’t take the time to customize it and really fill it out, you won’t be picked,” he said.

Retailers are happy to bring anyone on who will be a good fit, they say.

“We get people from all walks of life,” Wagoner said.

Putman said she has a lot of teenagers and housewives. There are also a large number of people who pick up a retail position with JC Penney as a second job. They otherwise work full time as teachers or in the military and they just need some extra money for the holidays, Putman said.

Some of the applicants are also people who have been unemployed for some time and who are looking for work, hoping they’ll get to come on full time and permanently.

“We try to find creative ways to keep as many of our team members as we can,” Wagoner said.

She said she was able to keep about 40 percent of last year’s seasonal employees.

Seasonal work may or may not be a good option for unemployed job hunters collecting unemployment benefits, said Linda Johnson, a human resources manager for the Pikes Peak Workforce Center.

“That’s something each individual will have to decide for themselves,” she said.

If a job hunter collecting $300 a week on unemployment gets a part-time position that doesn’t quite make him that much, he can still collect the difference while working. There’s a complicated formula that determines how much, Johnson said.

The tricky part is that unemployment benefits are calculated based on an average of what a worker earned during the previous five quarters leading up to his termination. And the low wages of a temporary part-time job will be factored into the calculation.

Still, some people are seeing their unemployment benefits expire, Swafford said. And it may be worth taking a short-term position in hopes it would turn into a permanent opportunity.

While seasonal retail jobs might not be the answer to long-term unemployment issues, they offer a boost to the economy in another way.

The number of additional employees that stores are allowed to hire is based on budgeted hours, which are based on traffic volumes. Store managers depend on historical data and forecasts to determine how many hours they’ll need employees in certain areas and then they schedule accordingly.

That means a lot of current employees get to pick up some extra hours during this busy season and can bank some extra money, Wagoner said. A lot of her staff like to bump up from part time to full time and work in different departments of the store during the holidays to earn their own shopping money.

Ron Baalman, who owns Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, depends entirely on part-time employees’ willingness to work extra hours during the holidays.

“We don’t hire for the holidays,” Baalman said. “Everybody we have will work 40-hour weeks from Thanksgiving to the New Year.”

He said his employees plan on it and know it’s coming every year.