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While retail sales clerks should see a surge in seasonal job opportunities at the end of 2014, demand for temporary labor in package delivery, cybersecurity, resort services, party planning and a few other niche industries will also be strong, staffing experts say.
And let’s not forget Santa and his elves. With some economic indicators pointing toward the North Pole, seasonal workers who have the requisite girth and mirth to portray Santa at stores and other venues will be at a premium—particularly if they have a genuine beard, as opposed to the imitation variety.
“I could see a real run on Santas,” said John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Challenger said that holiday season retail hiring in 2014 could top 800,000 for the first time since 1999, despite the fact that in-store retail sales will continue to compete heavily with Internet commerce. In 2013, 786,200 temporary retail hires were reported over the last three months of the year.
The explosion of last-minute online holiday shopping that occurred in 2013 is fresh in the minds of online sellers and transportation firms such as FedEx and UPS. Hoping to avoid delivering Aunt Gertrude’s fruit basket on Dec. 26 again in 2014, the package giants are recruiting seasonal workers aggressively.
Another concern for online sellers is the mayhem that can be caused by hackers who steal credit card data. Companies are desperately seeking seasonal hires who have skills and expertise in the technology of thwarting such fraud.
The competition for these employees is intense. “There’s just not enough people,” said Steve Lowisz, president and CEO of Livonia, Mich.-based recruiter Qualigence International. “Organizations have got to get creative,” such as by convincing employed tech people to take second jobs and by gambling on college students who lack experience.
Technological needs go beyond cybersecurity. “Troubleshooters and programmers are being hired like crazy now. If the system goes down, there goes your revenue,” noted Lowisz.
Physical security at storefront businesses and network security for e-commerce call centers is also a growth area for seasonal employment in 2014. And the midterm congressional elections are providing an early spike in temporary work as debates, fundraising events and other public appearances by politicians boost security demands, said Jerold Ramos, the Kansas City, Mo.-based director of strategic recruiting for AlliedBarton Security Services.
Customer support staffing needs are becoming more specialized. Rebecca Harrell, regional vice president for staffing firm Randstad U.S., said she is seeing high demand for bilingual and multilingual customer service and office support personnel during the holiday season.
Winter resorts need a steady source of seasonal hires—and unusual hires, too. For example, Montana’s Big Sky Resort is seeking a “PR/bouncer” employee for the winter season who is good at de-escalating disputes; doesn’t mind working nights, weekends and holidays; and “must be able to tolerate high-volume music,” according to the job description.
Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado is looking for gondola operators who are capable of “sharing their knowledge and passion about the gondola” at an elevation of 10,000 feet while getting skiers to and from their runs safely.
“It should be a boom year for party planners, caterers and restaurants,” said Challenger. Some of these assignments can be quite unusual, too. Consider the “hardship” assignment that Tricia Holderman was faced with one recent holiday season: Go to another country and set up a house for living and entertaining through the holiday period. “We buy groceries, we buy fresh flowers, we do everything for these people”—with the job demands extending to finding out what brand of cotton swabs the clients prefer.
Holderman, president and CEO of Dallas-based concierge firm Elite Facility Systems, decided not to stick an underling with the task. It didn’t hurt that the venue was in the Cayman Islands and that all of her expenses were paid for the week. “It was not a bad deal.”
For another client, she had to buy holiday presents for a series of high-profile recipients—at a budget of a cool $25,000.
The biggest seasonal boost in listings on the Simply Hired employment website is for tax preparers, up more than 600 percent in October 2014 from July.
That is followed by Santa Claus actors, ice skating rink attendants and professional bell ringers.
“Companies hire bell ringers to spread holiday cheer,” noted Susan Martindill, marketing director for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Simply Hired.
The nature of seasonal hiring is changing, say staffing experts. Some employers have ramped up their holiday hiring a month to six weeks earlier than in the past, and are training temps longer. Some companies are extending holiday employment into January or February.
More employers are using seasonal work assignments to evaluate employees for permanent positions, said Ramos. Many seasonal hires are people who have chosen to work intermittently or have been unable to find a permanent job.
“Seasonal employment is always a good option, especially for people who have been out of work for a while,” said Jean Baur, an employment coach, writer and speaker in Stonington, Conn.
In addition, a growing number of entry- and midlevel management jobs are available during the holiday period, said Michael Yinger, the Charlotte, N.C.-based global recruitment process outsourcing delivery leader for consulting firm Aon Hewitt.
Baur advised employers not to wait too long to hire seasonal workers. “Do it before your back is to the wall.”
Steve Bates is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area and a former writer and editor for SHRM.
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