At least the holidays are hiring.
Temporary jobs tied to the shopping season could be the consolation prize to South Florida’s recent stretch of lackluster hiring reports. Retailers expect to hire about 600,000 seasonal workers nationwide to keep up with demand during the Christmas rush, and the temp jobs can be a trial run for landing a permanent position.
“If you do a great job, we will reward you,’’ said Tyre Sperling, a spokesman for UPS, which plans to hire about 900 temporary workers this year in the South Florida area, with most jobs starting at about $8.50 an hour.
The UPS target of 900 local holiday workers is only about 20 more workers than it hired last year, reflecting a general trend of flat seasonal hiring in 2012.
The National Retail Federation expects stores and online merchandisers to bring on between 585,000 and 625,000 temporary workers nationwide this shopping season, roughly the same as the 607,500 hired last year. In South Florida, Macy’s and sister store Bloomingdale’s plans to hire 3,600 seasonal workers, and its national goal of 80,000 workers is up slightly from last year’s tally of 78,000 holiday hires.
One reason that retailers aren’t going all-out on seasonal workers is that they have been on a hiring streak since 2010. Retail payrolls in Broward and Miami-Dade grew 7 percent in the last two years compared to 3 percent for hiring overall. And though the 2012 seasonal hiring numbers are comparable to last year, they still amount to a post-recession high as consumers return to their free-spending ways.
Landing a holiday job at UPS or with any other employer is no guarantee for a permanent position, and companies expect to keep only a small fraction of their temporary workers this winter. Target, the nation’s third-largest retailer, recently said only 30 percent of 2011’s holiday hires became full-time employees.
But managers and others noted that they are reluctant to let outstanding temporary workers go once their assignment ends, particularly at the entry-level wages that typically come with holiday work. Should holiday sales come in strong and retailers start to feel confident about 2013, stores will be more eager to hold onto their staff once the “return” season ends in January.
“This is a good time to get your foot in the door,’’ said Ellen Davis, a senior vice president of the National Retail Federation. When searching for new employees, “the first place where many retailers look is who worked for them during the holidays and did a great job.”
Adrian Rodriguez tried for a month to land a job at JC Penney, but he didn’t hear back until the holidays arrived. “I’m a student. I needed a job,’’ he said. The Miami Dade College student spent a recent morning getting a tutorial on the department store’s watch department, one of thousands of workers cramming in as much Retail 101 before Friday and the official launch of the holiday shopping season.
While retailers wanted as many jobs filled as possible before “Black Friday,’’ the holiday hiring rush continues. Many of the back-end jobs, such as warehouse workers and package handlers, will see their rush periods in the days before Christmas. To land a seasonal job, recruiters, retail experts and others offered this advice:
• If you want a holiday job, offer to actually work on a holiday. Some of the hardest slots to fill at any company are holiday shifts. To make yourself more attractive as a seasonal worker, state you are available on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.
• Apply for multiple shifts. The typical seasonal employee gets hired to work at least 15 hours a week, but many employers want longer hours than that. Applicants only looking to pick up some extra hours on a Saturday won’t be as attractive as someone available to plug more holes in a holiday schedule.
• Read your online application aloud before hitting “Submit.” Typos and poor grammar don’t help your case amid the crush of holiday applicants. But a well-worded application that reflects a candidate’s communication skills will stand out in a human-resources office. Hiring managers say the No. 1 skill they look for in a retail worker is the ability to be polite and engaging with customers.
• Don’t stop at the online application. Don’t be afraid to stop in and ask about a job, even if you’ve already applied online. But remember: the interview starts the moment you walk in the door, even if you’re just looking to pick up an application. Dress to impress.
• Look for jobs where you like to shop. The ideal holiday worker already knows a store from the customer’s point of view. Short of being a regular customer, look for holiday jobs that match your interests. If you’re an athlete, try a sports-supply shop. If you have young children, try a toy store or a junior clothing store.
• Remember the warehouses and the call centers. A retail background qualifies as seasonal-hire gold during the holidays, but companies need muscle and other skills. For UPS, many of its temporary workers will be handling packages. And with online sales driving the growth of even the smallest retailers, there’s more demand than ever for customer-service operators and data punchers.
• Wait to ask about a permanent position. If you’re applying for a temp position at a large company, chances are it will be looking to keep some of its seasonal workers once the holidays end. So there’s no need to ask about the possibility of extending your employment while applying.
Wait until you have some rapport with a manager before broaching the subject. Meanwhile, always be asking for extra tasks and more hours. Your hard work will be noticed, and your supervisor probably will be eager to keep you even before you ask.