Last year was a blockbuster holiday season for retailers, but threats of trade wars and a volatile stock market may put a damper on consumer spending and that could translate into less seasonal hiring this year, one labor expert says.
"It's hard to say if 2019 will be as giving as last year," says Alan Benson, an assistant professor in the work and organizations group at the University of Minnesota. "Last year, retailers hired for some 700,000 seasonal job openings. That's a big chunk of the labor force. A good season is enough to move the needle on the total U.S. labor force numbers."
Currently, the U.S. jobless rate is below 4 percent and the dollar remains strong, but "people may feel nervous" about spending for the holidays, Benson says, and that's what remains a big question mark as stores are beginning to fill with holiday merchandise.
Another cause for concern is the number of brick-and-mortar retailers that have closed this year, including 2,100 Payless shoe stores, 800 Gymboree stores, and hundreds of Chico's, Gap and Walgreens stores. Even some of the companies that hired the most workers last year such as Target, Macy's and Nordstrom saw store closings, as well as the total shutdown of Toys R Us, which hired 12,500 seasonal workers last year.
"We do expect the closing of stores will impact the number of people who are hired this year," says Colleen Madden Blumenfeld, director of public relations for Challenger Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement and career transitioning firm.
Still, Blumenfeld says that big warehousing companies like Amazon, Target and Walmart will be hiring seasonal workers for the holiday season. "Those jobs typically require long hours, but we've seen big box retailers offering perks, like special shopping days, gift cards and bonuses to attract talent," she says. "We've also seen remote work customer service jobs being offered by retailers this year, as those who help customers shop online do not need to be in a physical location."
The increased perks by employers for seasonal workers, in addition to offering remote work, is part of a growing trend to attract workers into roles that used to be filled by thousands of teens looking for holiday work.
That is no longer the case, as teen employment has been dropping for more than a decade. The workplace participation rate of 16-to-24-year-olds has dropped 3.6 percentage points from 2000 to 2018.
Blumenfeld says that many of those in the gig economy, such as Lyft and Uber drivers or DoorDash employees, may find that seasonal work allows them the flexibility they need when cobbling together various jobs.
Finding seasonal jobs
Beyond retail jobs, there are lots of options open to job seekers depending on their experience and interests. Among them:
- Restaurants and specialty food stores. Extra workers – from wait staff to chefs – are needed to take on the holiday rush. For example, Nashville Sweets is advertising for a seasonal baker and dessert decorator as "we are entering into what will be a very busy holiday season for us."
- Transportation jobs. Peak holiday season is considered to be from Oct. 1 to Jan. 4. During that time, companies like UPS expect to ship some 800 million packages. Delivery services will need extra drivers and package handlers to meet the demands. UPS is also hiring those with a "personal vehicle that meets UPS standards" to deliver packages.
- Snow jobs. The Farmer's Almanac predicts winter this year to have "teeth-chattering cold" across much of the nation, with plenty of snow. Such conditions generate more seasonal jobs such as snow removal; heating oil delivery; ski resort work and all the support jobs that go along with having more seasonal workers on the job.
- Customer service. As Blumenfeld mentioned earlier, there are expected to be more seasonal customer service jobs that let employees work remotely. For example, Sykes partners with companies to help deal with customers, and is already ramping up hiring for the holiday season. These jobs are often a good fit for those who already have other gigs and can schedule their customer service work for nights or weekends.
Unique seasonal jobs
There are some jobs that crop up around the holiday season that can satisfy a job seeker's quest to work somewhere besides a big box store or warehouse. For those looking for something a bit different, consider:
- If you'd like to put your energies into more philanthropic work while also earning a paycheck, consider the various charity organizations that also get busy during the holiday season. For example, Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit that honors veterans with wreaths and wreath-laying ceremonies, is advertising for seasonal customer service representatives and data-entry people.
- Dog mushing. From an internship at Denali National Park in Alaska to a sled dog tour guide position with Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tours, these positions allow you to spend your days surrounded by man's best friends.
- As people travel for the holidays, some media outlets are looking for writers to provide travel hacks, profile various destinations and explain local cultures. For example, Elite Daily is looking for a travel writer who is focused on keeping track of "travel trends surrounding major holidays and seasonal travel."
As the competition for seasonal talent heats up, expect to see employers get creative and offer more perks to attract talent – and possibly entice them to stay as permanent workers. Good employees, after all, are a huge asset for any employer.
"The major retailers employ hundreds of thousands of workers, giving them lots of data on how to get workers in the door and how to motivate and keep them," Benson says. "So, if you work at a big company and notice that they're doing something different, there's probably someone behind the curtain calculating the company's return on investment from it."