Holiday hiring frenzy begins as job fairs hit area stores

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DETROIT – The holiday hiring season is in full swing, and the big red bow on it is the hope of up to $15 an hour – and maybe even a chance to win a $5,000 trip to New York City or Miami.

“Jobs to Cheer About,” says a small slip of paper being handed out to customers at the register at Nordstrom Rack. “We’re hiring for the holidays. Join our team and enjoy our fabulous employee discount. Apply now at careers.nordstrom.com.” 

The odds are good that if you go shopping in the next few weeks, you’ll spot a jobs fair in the store or hear about holiday job openings. Yes, it’s only October, but the holidays will be highly competitive when it comes to hiring extra help. 

“Lower-skilled workers are in especially hot demand,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics.

On Friday, the Labor Department reported that the U.S. jobless rate hit a nearly 49-year low in September with a rate of 3.7 percent. That’s down from 3.9 percent in August. 

Some economists expect that the unemployment rate even could fall further. 

“Unemployment is headed into the low 3s; something we’ve seen only twice in history, once in World War II and in the Korean War,” Zandi said.

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What’s good to hear is that many workers who pick up holiday jobs could see better wages, more attractive in-store discounts and maybe even a chance to win a trip to New York City or $500 gift cards this holiday season. 

Amazon made big news in early October by announcing that it was raising its minimum wage to $15 for its employees, including seasonal workers, effective Nov. 1. Amazon expects to hire more than 100,000 seasonal employees across the country during the holiday. 

” A lack of labor is businesses’ No. 1 problem. As such, all employers will need to match Amazon’s move with higher wages soon,” Zandi said. 

In the next week or so, major retailers will be holding holiday hiring fairs. They include: 

  • Target will host a holiday hiring event Oct. 12-14 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day at its stores. “You can meet with store leaders. You can interview on the spot,” said Angie Thompson, a spokesperson for Target in Minneapolis. Candidates can apply in advance at TargetSeasonalJobs.com. 
  • J.C. Penney will hold its second annual hiring day event Oct. 16 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at its stores to fill 1,200 seasonal jobs in Michigan. See jcpcareers.com before the event to apply online first before any in-store interviews. Applicants also can apply at in-store kiosks prior to attending the event. 
  • Best Buy is running a holiday jobs fair in its stores on Oct. 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  with interviews taking place the same day. 
  • Macy’s is holding a holiday hiring event on Oct. 18 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at its stores, as well as its call centers and distribution and fulfillment centers. Candidates are encouraged to submit applications online prior to the hiring events by visiting macysJOBS.com or bloomingdalesJOBS.com. 
  • Kohl’s has its seasonal hiring event Oct. 20 at select Kohl’s stores across the country. See careers.kohls.com. 

Holiday shopping is expected to be brisk online, as well as in traditional stores at the mall. 

Retailers claim to be “shoptimistic,” according to the the National Retail Federation.

The trade group expects holiday retail sales in November and December – excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants – to increase between 4.3 and 4.8 percent over 2017. The forecast is better than the average in the past five years but it might not match last year’s robust gains.

Holiday sales in 2017 totaled $687.87 billion, a 5.3 percent increase over the year before and the largest increase since the 5.2 percent year-over-year gain seen in 2010 after the end of the Great Recession.

Retailers nationwide are expected to hire between 585,000 and 650,000 temporary workers this holiday season, up from last year’s 582,500, according to the industry trade group’s forecast. 

Target plans to hire 120,000 workers this holiday season, up 20 percent from a year ago.

Macy’s is planning to hire 80,000 people throughout the company, which is about the same as last year. 

Kohl’s said it will hire 90,000 seasonal associates to work at more than 1,100 stores, nine distribution centers, five e-commerce fulfillment centers and credit centers nationwide, a slight increase from last year.

‘Tis the season to be looking for a job, as the odds are pretty good that you can make more than the minimum wage at several retailers. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. 

But Amazon and other retailers are having an increasingly tough time keeping and attracting workers, so wages are going up in some cases. “Amazon’s wage hike is indicative of a very tight job market, that will only get tighter,” Zandi said.

Walmart is promising at least $11 an hour. Starting wages vary by location. But Walmart is not promoting any holiday job fairs or the like to hire thousands of seasonal workers. 

Instead, Walmart’s practice for the past two years has been to give more holiday hours to its current employees. 

“It’s worked very well for us and the feedback from customers and associates has been overwhelmingly positive, which is why we will do this again during the upcoming holiday season,” Erica Jones, senior manager for corporate communications for Walmart, said in a statement. 

She said there may be some select holiday hiring on a store-by-store basis. 

At Target, all team members hired after Sept. 16 will begin at a $12 an hour minimum wage. Target is aiming to boost its minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of 2020. 

Target’s wage will start at $12 – up from the boost to $11 last year – but some markets could pay more based on competition, Thompson said. She noted that workers have a chance to be paid time and a half if they work select holidays. 

Target also initiated a chance for one hourly team member at each of the company’s more than 1,800 stores and its 39 distribution centers across the country to win a $500 holiday gift card, plus the chance to donate $500 to the local community organization of their choice. The “work.win.give” appreciation program involves selecting the winners at random and will involve more than $2 million in gift cards and donations. 

Other stores are adding some holiday bling, too.

This year, J.C. Penney is introducing prizes for employees, such as $5,000 trips to New York City, Miami and Banff, Alberta, Canada. Three employees have a chance to win those trips that cover lodging, airfare and entertainment. Five other lucky employees could win a prize package worth $5,000 – each with a different theme. 

The catch: All hourly associates and seasonal associates in the J.C. Penney stores, supply chain and its call centers are eligible to win – if they remain with the company through Dec. 29.  

Contact Susan Tompor: stompor@freepress.com or 313-222-8876. Follow Susan on Twitter @Tompor. 

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