Janesville69.5°

Janesville retailers mixed on holiday hiring

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JAMES P. LEUTE
November 19, 2009
— ’Tis the season for hiring seasonal retail employees, and an informal survey of some of Janesville largest retailers shows a mixed bag of hiring activity.

While some companies are stepping up hiring of temporary workers, others are taking a wait-and-see approach and could bring in extra workers if the holiday economy warrants.


Shane Davis, who manages Best Buy in Janesville, has completed his seasonal holiday hiring. This year, he’s hired a few more people than last year.


“There’s no particular reason for that, other than I hope I’m going to need them,” Davis said.


Richfield, Minn.-based Best Buy, the world’s largest electronics retailer, has said it plans to hire more seasonal holiday workers this year to help meet demand for Internet-connected flat-panel televisions and mobile phones.


The move by companies such as Best Buy are indicative of a trend that some economists say may signal an end to U.S. job losses.


Temporary-worker payrolls grew by 34,000 in October, the third consecutive monthly increase and the biggest gain in two years, the U.S. Labor Department said in its most recent unemployment report. Total payrolls still fell by 190,000 workers, and the unemployment rate jumped to a 26-year high of 10.2 percent.


Growth in temp hires is often considered a bellwether of increases in overall employment. Temp payrolls often increase before total employment because companies aren’t certain increases in demand will be sustainable and warrant the expense of taking on permanent staff.


Kathy Grannis, spokesperson for the National Retail Federation, said that while her group doesn’t forecast seasonal hiring, feedback from many large retailers shows that some intend to hire slightly less holiday help than in previous years.


“Retailers definitely are being conservative with hiring for the holiday season,” she said. “A lot look first to the regular employees for extra hours before starting the whole hiring process again.”


Large retailers in Janesville have added seasonal workers, but at a lower rate than a year ago.


“Generally, our seasonal hiring is down this year,” said Target spokeswoman Beth Hanson. “We’re giving our existing team members the opportunity for more hours or to cross-train for other positions.”


While Hanson didn’t have specific numbers for the Janesville store, she said the holiday hiring season runs from October to January.


“It all depends on the economy,” she said.


The situation is similar at Kohl’s in Janesville, where positions have been filled since September.


Seasonal employees work anywhere from a few hours to more than 20 hours a week, said Vicki Shamion, the company’s vice president of public relations. Typical seasonal jobs include unloading trucks, freight processing, stocking and cash register duties.


“Each Kohl’s store adds approximately 20 new associates, with that number varying by store size and anticipated seasonal demand,” she said.


Depending on a store’s needs, outstanding seasonal associates sometimes transition into permanent work, she said.


The local retailers haven’t had any problem attracting seasonal workers in a county that most recently posted an unemployment rate of 11.1 percent. They rarely advertise seasonal positions through the Rock County Job Center, local staffing agencies or traditional marketing channels.


“We had an in-store hiring table and took applications online,” said Davis of Best Buy.


Target, Hanson said, hung a sign on the door and accepted online applications.


That’s not unusual, said Vicki Donalson of Express Employment Professionals in Janesville.


Donalson said mass retailers often don’t want to pay the multiplier costs that come with hiring through staffing companies. Rising costs of unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance contribute to a bottom line that the retailers don’t want to tack onto a job that typically pays at or near minimum wage.


Donalson said her company has worked with others in the Janesville area to staff for back-shop holiday business. For example, one Janesville retailer tapped Donalson in July for warehouse workers handling Christmas toys.


Donalson said that while the area’s unemployment rate is high, many of those people who have been laid off won’t consider a seasonal job.


“They need to make more than $9.25 an hour to cover what unemployment is paying them, and they’re not willing to take a job at minimum wage with no benefits that’s not permanent,” she said.


—Material from Gazette wire services was used in this story.

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