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Oct 13, 2022

It’s the most horrible time of the year! For recruiters, that is. It’s the time when talent acquisition departments have to hire hundreds of temporary workers to get through the holiday season.

Hiring holiday employees is a tradition that probably goes back to when the Three Wisemen had to pick up gold, frankincense, and myrrh because the stores weren’t expecting the Christmas rush and were already out of practical presents like diapers and rattles. 

But traditions evolve, and holiday hiring in 2022 is distinctly different from previous years. 

Unemployment Is Low, Salaries Are High

The latest figures on unemployment rates put it at 3.7%, meaning there aren’t many people out there looking for or willing to take temporary holiday jobs. Compare that to 4.6% in 2021 and 6.9%t in 2020. (Of course, those were pandemic days; in 2019, unemployment was lower than today at 3.6%.)

Low unemployment is great for candidates, but hiring seasonal workers is challenging, as they have numerous options. Indeed, the competition for entry-level workers is high — but that’s not all that’s high.

In 2019, “Fight for $15”  was just a slogan. Today, that’s the average retail salary. Target, in Virginia, has seasonal jobs starting at $16.25, while the same position in Salt Lake City lists at $15.

But even if these are premium wages to attract temporary workers, it’s going to be tough to pull them from more permanent jobs. Chipotle, in Salt Lake City, offers only $13.75 to $15 but includes health insurance and enough tuition reimbursement to cover the cost at a local community college or more than half of the cost at University of Utah

In other words, from a long-term perspective, you’re better off getting your free burrito while you work than pushing carts at Target.

What Big Companies Are Doing

Walmart announced that it is hiring 40,000 seasonal employees this year. That seems like a lot until you realize the giant hired 150,000 last year. (Notably, Target didn’t disclose its numbers, although it has in years past. Also, its public relations department didn’t respond to a request for information.) 

On the other hand, Amazon plans to hire 150,000 seasonal employees, which is the same as in 2021. However, that number is down from the 200,000 they sought in 2019 when unemployment was almost identical to today.

Then there’s UPS. The company is planning to hire 100,000 this year, consistent with past practices. It’s worth pointing out that an advantage it may have over competitors is that 80% of these jobs don’t require a job interview. It’s apply, and if you meet the criteria, you’re in!

Even with the significant hiring from Amazon and UPS, it’s important to keep in mind that consistent hiring doesn’t coincide with online sales. In 2019, the U.S. had 249.6 million digital buyers. In 2022 that number is up to 266.7 million digital buyers. (UPS now has more employees than in 2019 but fewer than in 2021, while Amazon has seen significant growth every year.)

‘It’s Not Worth It’

Recruiting is more challenging and different than before. Employers are experiencing different competition for workers and can’t depend on part -temporary labor. Many will also have to compete on more than just dollars. (Perks may make a difference when employers can’t compete on salary.) In the meantime, candidates may look for longer-term roles — after all, they can quit any time they want if they genuinely want a temporary job. 

Candidates are also savvier. Amelia Christy, the owner of KNA Solutions, which provides temporary employment solutions, explains: 

“The market is still quite challenging. Peak roles are especially tough because people may not necessarily want to take a job that they know will only be for a few weeks. While they need the paycheck, it could compromise their unemployment benefits they may currently be on. Once the peak role is ramped down, they’ll have to begin the process all over again to claim benefits. Like what we experienced during Covid, a lot of people will just say, ‘It’s not worth it,’ and won’t even bother.”

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