More Seasonal Workers Calling the Shots

Technology, behavioral trends transforming temporary employment

By Steve Bates March 8, 2018

​As spring 2018 hiring gears up, seasonal workers are in the driver's seat in a wide range of industries. Many home improvement stores need an influx of workers. So too do landscapers, tax preparers, construction firms, restaurants, sports venues, amusement parks, resorts and museums. While applicants for temporary and part-time work generally can't hold out for high pay rates, many insist on flexible schedules that meet their needs.

"The old way was 'You've got to work certain shifts,' " said Greg Dyer, president of Randstad Commercial Staffing, who is based in Atlanta. "Now the workforce is demanding 'I want to work when I want to work.' "

Low unemployment and improved technology have empowered the full-time workforce. That trend is filtering down to seasonal hiring as the gig economy grows and increasing numbers of U.S. workers—particularly Millennials—value flexibility over pay rates and long-term job security.

"It is a worker's market," said Jocelyn Mangan, chief operating officer of online employment platform Snagajob, which is headquartered in Arlington, Va. "Employers are having to work harder."

Seasonal work, like work in the broader gig economy, is being turbocharged by technology. Mobile apps allow people to see what work is available as well as where and when the employer needs it done. Compensation is more transparent. Applicants can comparison shop.

In addition to using traditional online job postings, employers are experimenting with kiosks, social media and mobile apps to find, schedule and keep seasonal hires.

Some employers are finding plenty of willing hands. The U.S. Forest Service is inundated with applicants to fill spring positions such as cleaning up park trails amid gorgeous terrain, according to National Collective Recruitment and Hiring Program Manager Liz Feutrier, who is based in Hamilton, Mont. "A lot of what we do is very attractive," she said. "We haven't really experienced difficulty" finding seasonal employees. Many return each year.

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Bending Over Backward

But some employers trying to fill important shifts quickly—notably retail firms—are bending over backward to attract applicants on the job seekers' terms.

Among retailers gearing up for spring sales is Home Depot, which has more than 80,000 spring positions to fill. In February 2018, it launched a tool that allows job applicants to schedule in-person interviews at a time of their choosing. About 90 percent of job seekers who find an opening that fits their needs are using the new tool to set up interviews, said Eric Schelling, senior director of talent acquisition for the Atlanta-based home improvement chain.

He said that the tight job market was not the impetus for the self-scheduling option but that the new tool doesn't hurt. In addition, technology allows people to apply for seasonal work at Home Depot via text message. If hired, they can use a mobile app that uses gamification to help them get trained on the job.

"We're trying to create a very consumer-like experience" for seasonal job applicants, Schelling said.

He added that Home Depot's goal is to find something for everyone who wants to work there—on their terms. "We try to accommodate their availability."

"Workers are prioritizing flexibility above all else," Mangan said. "This is quite different than what employers are used to." Some retailers are pledging to tell seasonal workers their schedules a week in advance to attract and retain them.

In light of seasonal workers' interests, "You have to evolve your recruitment and talent strategy," Dyer said. "The companies that are willing to make these moves are seeing the benefits." For example, he said, employers are cross-training workers to allow them to pick up more shifts and more-desirable shifts.

Lisa Disselkamp, managing director of Deloitte Consulting, said HR needs to pay more attention to the part-time and on-demand workforce and how it is reshaping how work gets done. She added that employers need to understand that seasonal workers value not only predictable and stable schedules but also getting the right number of hours. Some seasonal workers—and even some 40-hour-a-week employees—are seeking more hours so they can bring home more money. However, pay rates are starting to rise as well, as employers compete for talent.

"We're seeing wages rise across the country," said Andrew Challenger, vice president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, who is based in the Chicago area. "I wouldn't be surprised to see this continue through the spring."

Challenger acknowledged the important role of technology in finding people to fill seasonal jobs, yet he said websites and mobile apps have their limitations. "It's so much about in-person interactions," he said. "Face to face is always going to be the most important aspect of hiring."

Steve Bates is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area.

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