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HR Races to Meet Demand for Holiday Workers

With the jobless rate down and online shopping’s growing popularity, many human resource professionals are hustling to compete for a smaller pool of workers.

Retailers need to hire more “warehouse drivers, transportation individuals, logistics professionals, and then all the technical experts,” says Jim Link, chief human resources officer at staffing firm Randstad, reports Marketplace.

The push to find workers to help online retailers with holiday orders and to work at brick-and-mortar locations comes as unemployment stands at about 5%. That means e-commerce merchants will need workers at call centers to handle sales expected to be in the double-digits, while onsite retailers are looking for workers for wide-ranging jobs--from operating a forklift to IT, says Larry Feinstein, CEO of Hire Dynamics.

“My biggest worry is can we fill all the orders? Feinstein says. “Can we get talent for the demand that’s out there?” So, Feinstein is not leaving anything to chance, recruiting at high schools and technical colleges, and visiting fairs that don’t cater to job seekers. “We’ll come to a fall festival and we’ll get creative and give out popcorn and hotdogs,” he says. “Let them know we’re looking to hire people.”

For prospective employers and their HR staff, this may mean having to pay 20% more in some markets, says John Haber, CEO of Spend Management Experts, a supply-chain consulting firm.

“If I were a laborer, one of the major things I’d be looking at is who’s going to pay me the most,” he says. Department store chain Kohl’s is on a major hunt for holiday workers, the Milwaukee Business Journal reports. That means more than 69,000 seasonal employees--the same number of hires from the 2015 holiday season--but with fewer stores as the chain will have shut down 18 stores by the end of the year. Hiring for the more than 1,100 stores in 49 states started in August and will go through mid-November.

Other retailers, including Amazon.com and Wal-Mart, as well as delivery firms, United Parcel Service (UPS) and FedEx, also are expected to boost recruiting, hire earlier than in the past and pay more, The Wall Street Journal reports.

UPS needed about 95,000 seasonal workers in 2015 and last month revamped its recruiting website to make it more user-friendly for mobile devices. The delivery giant also is scoping out college football games and perusing social media to look for potential hires willing to work three to five hour shifts.

“When you’ve got applicants looking for seasonal employ, you have to be flexible and nimble,” says Bryan McHugh, the human-resources operations director for UPS. This “ultimately gets us a bigger pool of applicants to choose from.”

A more vibrant economy and disposable income along with lower unemployment means there is a “war for talent” for workers this holiday season, says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. So reports Multichannel Merchant.

“Generally most are not only seeing growth in consumer purchasing power this year over last, but the economy continues to be in expansion mode, with more people working,” Challenger says. “We’re also continuing to see a movement in growth from brick-and-mortar to direct-to-customer and e-commerce, which means more warehouses.”

But with the demand for labor so intense in areas where giant retailers have established distribution and fulfillment centers, these merchants are trying something different, Challenger says. This entails opening up smaller centers in urban areas where it is not nearly as challenging to find labor.

“With so much competition in the big hub areas, they’re going to a micro hub strategy,” he says. “This not only helps them get goods to customers faster, but it solves some staffing issues pressing on them. They can find more people willing to do that work in city neighborhoods, who don’t want to do an hour commute to the exurbs or have transportation issues.”

American Eagle Outfitters started a pilot program in June that ditched a requirement for its workers to speak English at a facility in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, realizing the need to bring in more Latino workers. “We have bilingual staff and our temp agencies support us with bilingual supervisors and coaches,” says Christine Miller, director of operations for American Eagle. “The performance of that group is very good in terms of attendance, quality and accuracy.”

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