Holiday hiring rises with hope of strong sales

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Holiday hiring rises with hope of strong sales

There’s good news for metro Atlanta job seekers: Stores are optimistic about this year’s holiday shopping season.

That means they’re hiring more seasonal employees to help stock shelves and fill orders. And, if the predictions about the winter turn out to be true, there’s a better chance that those temporary jobs could turn into permanent positions.

“It will be, in general, easier to get a seasonal job this year,” said Craig Rowley, vice president of the national retail practice for Hay Group. “Retailers are betting bigger on Christmas.”

More hiring is good news in Atlanta, a metro area where unemployment is at 8.9 percent, higher than the national average of 7.8 percent.

Stores from Toys”R”Us to Macy’s to Kohl’s all expect to hire more temporary holiday workers this year, though one prominent retailer, Target, has cut its holiday hiring from 2011. In a statement, Target said it has been hiring throughout the year, and 30 percent of its 2011 seasonal hires stayed on through the rest of the year.

As a whole, stores are expected to hire nearly 3 percent more seasonal workers this year, said Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. Retail sales are expected to rise 4.1 percent, to $586.1 billion, this holiday season. Last year’s increase was 5.6 percent, higher than the NRF’s projection of a 2.8 percent increase.

Erik Nielsen, a Lawrenceville resident who worked in information technology for more than 30 years before his position was eliminated two-and-a-half years ago, was interviewing for a seasonal job at Old Navy this week. While he is still looking for permanent work after running through his unemployment benefits, Nielsen said a holiday job would help him put food on the table.

“I’m looking for anything, really,” he said. “This one sounds good. But, at the moment, any job offer I get, I would take.”

While Old Navy would not comment on what its seasonal hires make, Rowley said seasonal work typically pays between $7.25 and $9 an hour. He expected Atlanta to be at the lower end of the spectrum.

Nielsen said it’s difficult to be confident about job prospects after being out of work for so long. But at the Georgia Department of Labor’s Gwinnett Career Center, where Old Navy was conducting interviews Tuesday, employment marketing representative Carolyn Coburn-Allen reminded applicants that they should be spirited.

“They’re looking for really enthusiastic people,” she said. “Have a big smile.”

This is the time to look for holiday jobs. Many retailers finish their hiring well before shoppers begin to think about their gift lists. Job seekers can look for employment opportunities on stores’ websites, or can look for seasonal job fairs. Many are put on by the state’s Department of Labor.

Off Broadway Shoes’ Phil Lamantia said he looks for seasonal employees who are energetic and like to be around that store’s customers. Lamantia, director of operations for the Alpharetta shoe company, said he is hiring an average of nine seasonal employees at each of his 77 stores — a 50 percent increase over last year — after seeing people spend more money on boots so far this year.

“We are ramping up with a lot of staff,” he said. “Since our business is good, we’re really anticipating a good holiday season.”

Locally, Toys “R” Us expects to increase its seasonal hiring by 20 percent, to 900 people, from about 750 in 2011. In metro Atlanta, retailers added more than 15,000 jobs between September and December of 2011, nearly three times what they added in 2008, at the depths of the recession. Last December, more than 265,000 people in metro Atlanta were employed in retail, but that’s still 21,000 fewer than the number who worked in retail in December 2007.

Because stores are largely anticipating a strong Christmas this year, people who take part-time jobs likely will be asked to work more hours than they had in the past, said John Challenger, CEO of the global outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Retailers are looking for a core group of employees, he said.

That’s good news for people hoping to turn their part-time jobs into permanent gigs. Rowley, with Hay Group, said the hourly jobs are more likely to translate into non-seasonal work than in recent years. That’s because a good holiday season likely means a successful spring.

“They’re getting an audition,” he said. “There’s more interest in permanent employees. They’re going to keep them on past the holidays.”

Historically, seasonal jobs had been sought by people like Malikah Muhammad, a recent high school graduate who, with her brother, was interviewing for the Old Navy positions Tuesday. Muhammad is hoping to save some money for college and has always been interested in retail.

But with her brother and mother also looking for work, Muhammad said she’d love to find more than a temporary job.

“I’d be grateful if it did become full-time,” she said. “It’s more secure.”

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