Companies to hire more for the holiday season

"We're hiring" seems to have become all too rare a phrase uttered by businesses hampered by the sluggish economy.

But with the holiday season approaching, prospects for job hunters are looking better — at least temporarily.

Companies are preparing to increase hiring this holiday season with plans to bring on 550,000 to 650,000 people nationwide for seasonal employment, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm that tracks hiring trends. Last year, 501,400 people worked holiday jobs.

The holiday period is important for retailers because they make a large part of the year's profits as shoppers crowd stores to buy gifts for family and friends. But in recent years, retailers grew cautious about adding too many new workers as the economy showed few signs of growth and consumers cut back on spending, hurting profits.

After some recent sales gains, businesses are becoming more confident that shoppers will spend more than in previous holiday seasons and that the economy might finally be improving, hiring consultants said.

Consumers are expected to spend a little more this year, even as they still operate with memories of the recession, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. Shoppers are expected to spend an average of $688.87 over the holidays, up from $681.83 last year. They'll spend mostly on family and friends while buying small tokens for co-workers. Most shoppers will be looking for deals, according to the survey.

"There's more of a sense that we've come out of the recession than there was a year ago," said John Challenger of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "We've seen some stronger sales numbers — not as strong as they once were, but better than they have been recently."

Still, job experts predict that holiday hiring will have only a minimal impact on the overall unemployment rate and that hiring will be far lower than pre-recession levels. Holiday jobs added 746,800 to the workforce in 2006 and 720,800 in 2007.

"We're seeing continued improvement, but it's not going to be gangbusters," Challenger said.

With unemployment still high, seasonal jobs might be more important than ever for some people. And this year they might also be a foot in the door to something more permanent.

Nearly 40 percent of employers who are hiring seasonal workers this year said they would likely transition some into full-time, permanent employees, up from 31 percent last year, according to a survey by CareerBuilder. The survey was conducted among more than 2,400 employers between Aug. 17 and Sept. 2.

Companies are also hiring earlier for the season — which typically runs from October to January — another indication that they're more optimistic about the economic environment, job experts said. Nearly 47 percent of companies surveyed by online job site said they had planned to start hiring in September, up 11 points from last year.

"They've already started hiring, which is a good sign that they will have these positions," said Amanda Richardson, a senior vice president at SnagAJob. "When they hold off on hiring, they may change their minds about filling the positions."

Most of the hiring will be done by retailers who will need more sales people for the rush of customers buying holiday gifts. The impact will spread to other industries as well as places such as catering firms looking to increase staff for end-of-year soirees.

"It's going to be crowded, and the last thing we want is not to be able to serve the customers who are in the store," said Charles Ostrander, manager for the mobile division at the Best Buy store in White Marsh. Nationwide, Best Buy plans to hire 29,000 holiday workers, including sales associates, security and stock workers.

UPS, which needs more hands to help with the onslaught of packages, will hire 50,000 workers throughout the country. In the Baltimore area, the delivery company is looking for nearly 1,100 people, including 733 driver assistants, 10 drivers and 350 people to help process and load packages.

"We need extra help because we need people to handle the volume and surge in packages we get this time of year," said UPS spokeswoman Elizabeth Rasberry.

Kohl's will increase the number of holiday workers by 20 percent, with plans to hire 40,000 associates, or 35 people per store. The jobs will be at distribution centers, credit operations and stores. Last year, Kohl's hired more than 33,000 seasonal associates nationwide.

The employee ranks at Toys 'R' Us will double, with an additional 45,000 people coming on board for the holiday season this year, higher than the past three years, officials for the toy retailer said. The company typically hires about 35,000 holiday workers.

Much of the job growth is being created to staff 600 "express" pop-up stores the retailer is opening for the holiday season. About 35,000 employees will staff the company's 587 traditional Toys 'R' Us stores and 10,000 will work at the pop-up stores. Seasonal workers will also be hired in the company's nine distribution centers across the country.

Other companies hiring for the holidays are Macy's, Pier 1, American Eagle Outfitters and Borders.

Who's Hiring?

A look at how many employees some national retailers expect to hire for the holiday season

Macy's 65,000

UPS 50,000

Toys 'R' Us 45,000

Kohl's 40,000

Best Buy 29,000

Pier 1 Imports 10,00

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