Pandemic reinvents holiday hiring for retailers

Shoppers gaze into a Zales jewelry store as they walk past the store inside the Kings Plaza Mall, Tuesday Oct. 20, 2020, in New York. The coronavirus pandemic is transforming holiday hiring this year, with companies starting hiring earlier and offering extra safety protocols. Zales and Jared, plans to hire 4,000 holiday workers.

Seasonal workers are in high demand across the country as retailers try to fill positions that can help with distribution and contactless shopping ahead of a holiday season when many shoppers are expected to buy their gifts online.

Bob Garrett, the president/CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber’s recent surveys showed that nealry two-thirds of chamber members indicated that finding and retaining qualified employees to be there top issue.

“Holiday-season hiring will further compound an already very tight labor market,” said Garrett. “According to the PA Department of Labor and Industries, three of the counties in the Greater Susquehanna Valley, Montour, Union and Snyder, are among the counties with the lowest unemployment rates statewide. In fact, Montour County currently has the lowest rate as compared to all 67 Pennsylvania counties.”

COVID-19 affects everything—hiring included, Garrett said.

“Local employers have excellent resources including the PA CareerLink and local vocational schools to help in recruiting their workforce,” he said. “I see ‘Help Wanted’ signs everywhere I go.”

Zach Stotter, a business consultant for the PA CareerLink® Northumberland/Snyder/Union in Sunbury, said employers throughout the region continue to have openings for full time and part time work.

“The additional need for seasonal help among retailers, delivery services, and related businesses is likely to be a struggle as many permanent positions remain unfilled,” said Stotter.

Online retail giant Amazon wants to hire more than 100,000 seasonal workers the needs across the country.

Last year, the company hired 200,000 seasonal workers nationwide. But throughout 2020, it added more regular workers — more than 275,000 since April as Amazon responded to heightened demand during the coronavirus pandemic.

In Minnesota, local seasonal warehouse employees hired to sort and scan packages and get customer orders ready for delivery at Amazon’s sortation center in Shakopee could earn one-time $1,000 sign-on bonuses, according to job listings.

“We know this is a hard time because of the pandemic and many people are still out of work, and we’re proud to be creating jobs here locally,” said Kirsten Wenker, a Minnesota-based Amazon spokeswoman, in a statement.

“We prepare year-round for the holiday season,” she said. “We employ seasonal or temporary employees to manage variation in customer demand. These seasonal employees supplement our regular workforce and play an important role in meeting increased demand, as all of our incredible employees come together to deliver magical experiences for customers throughout the holiday season.”

Minneapolis-headquartered Target plans to add 130,000 temporary workers nationwide about the same it did last year, however, it is prepared to designate twice as many of those workers focused on contactless services for drive-up and order pickup for the holidays. The retailer also plans to hire more seasonal team members to staff its distribution centers.

To date, Target has seen an increase in seasonal worker application volume compared to last year, according to a Target spokeswoman.

Richfield, Minn.-based Best Buy wants to hire thousands of employees for its stores and distribution centers this year, but the retailer didn’t give an exact amount.

FedEx recently announced plans to hire 70,000 seasonal workers, a jump from 55,000 last year. UPS wants to hire more than 100,000 seasonal employees to support the anticipated increase in package volume. Local jobs include a seasonal personal vehicle package drivers who use their own cars to deliver packages.

“We’re preparing for a record peak holiday season,” said Charlene Thomas, UPS chief human resources officer, in a statement.

Star Tribune staff writer Kavita Kumar contributed to this report.

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