Today's seasonal workers may become tomorrow's full-time employees.
Christina Carney began her J.C. Penney Co. career as a seasonal worker in the fine jewelry department in 2008.
In January 2009, the Tyrone woman became a full-time employee and today supervises the children's and family shoes departments at the Logan Valley Mall store.
Carney appreciates the value of seasonal employees.
"If you are a good worker, they may keep you. We look and see who is performing and who is not, who we would like to keep. We are looking for the high performers here," said Carney, who as a supervisor has some input on which seasonal workers may be retained.
Starting as a seasonal employee also has worked out well for Alice Kotzatoski at J.C. Penney Co. and Christine Cox at Boscov's.
Kotzatoski, started as a customer service representative in 1997. She became a full-time employee in 1998.
"I was a stay at home mom. I hadn't worked for 16 years. It was great. I was glad to get out of the home," Kotzatoski said. "It worked for me. You never know until you try it. I love it. I am 70; it is what keeps me going.
Cox started as a a seasonal employee at Boscov's in November 2009 and became full-time in June 2013.
"I was a floater and worked in any department that needed me. I enjoyed it. I literally worked in every department in the store. I got to work with everybody and see everybody; it was nice," said Cox, who is now a sales associate in the furniture and bedding departments.
Retail holiday hiring hit a 12-year high in 2012, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based global outplacement consulting firm.
In its annual holiday hiring forecast, Challenger estimated that seasonal job gains will not see a significant decline from last year's robust numbers, but they are likely to at best match the level of hiring that occurred in October, November and December 2012.
In 2012, retail employment increased by a nonseasonally adjusted 751,800 between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. That was the heaviest holiday hiring binge since 2000, when retailers added 788,200 to their payrolls during the final three months of the year.
The 2012 holiday hiring total was up 11 percent from the previous year, when 679,300 extra seasonal workers were hired.
Last year marked the fourth consecutive increase in holiday hiring since 2008 at the height of the Great Recession. Retailers added just 324,900 workers that year, the fewest since 1982, when retail employment grew by only 259,500 during the holiday season.
"We expect it to be strong, but not like last year. That was the strongest we had seen in 12 years. Last year, retailers came into the season with very thin levels of staffing within their stores. They had been cautious and needed to hire to get staffing up to a higher level," CEO John Challenger said.
Hiring is expected to be up this year at Wal-Mart.
"We are expecting to hire 55,000 seasonal associates this year between October and December. In addition we are transferring more than 35,000 associates from temporary to part time and more than 35,000 from part to full time," spokeswoman Betsy Harden said.
Figures on seasonal hiring for local Wal-Mart stores were not available.
add about 50
About 50 seasonal employees are expected to be hired at both the Altoona and Johnstown Boscov's stores.
"Typically we will hire anywhere from 40 to 60 people for our 43 locations. That is over 2,000. They enable us to provide good service for our customers. The number depends on the volume of the store," said Ed Elko, senior vice president of human resources.
Kohl's Department Store, which has locations in Altoona and State College, anticipates hiring an average of 40 associates per store throughout the holiday season at its 1,158 stores in 49 states.
"In order to ensure we provide excellent customer service during the busiest time of the year, Kohl's is hiring more than 50,000 associates across the country to maintain the high level of service our shoppers appreciate," said Michelle Gass, Kohl's chief customer officer.
J.C. Penney Co. plans to hire at least 35,000 seasonal workers across its 1,100 stores.
"We have already begun to hire for the Christmas season. We are looking to hire about 20 percent more than we did last year. We are anticipating an increase in traffic over last year," said Bill Crouse, manager of the Logan Valley Mall store.
"We were not operating under a promotional strategy last year, outside of Black Friday/Cyber Monday, but this year plan to be highly promotional and will need the additional staff to assist with traffic and the additional workload that comes with promotional tasks,"said J.C. Penney spokeswoman Kate Coultas.
Target, which added about 88,000 seasonal workers last year, will be hiring fewer this year.
In a press release, the company, which has stores in Altoona and State College, said it is taking a slightly different approach that reflects recent trends in holiday shopping patterns and input from its year-round team members.
"So, here's the deal: Target plans to hire about 70,000 seasonal team members. We'll also offer more hours to year-round team members, as much as 6 to 10 percent more for the busiest periods around Black Friday and the week before Christmas," the release stated.
"This approach takes into account recent trends that are becoming more and more pronounced - the busy periods are busier than ever, while the early part of December is quieter. And with year-round team members looking for more hours, we want to accommodate their requests first," the company said.
Sears Holdings Corp., which operates Sears and Kmart, does not disclose numbers regarding its seasonal hirings, said spokesman Howard Riefs.
"We certainly make every effort to provide the level of service that will give our members and customers the best shopping experience during the holidays. Each Sears and Kmart store bases its needs on what they're anticipating for that particular store," Riefs said.
Shippers also need help
United Parcel Service is expected to add 70,000 workers this year compared to 55,000 last year, Challenger said.
FedEx also will add more seasonal workers than last year.
FedEx is increasing hours for existing employees and increasing the workforce with tens of thousands of seasonal positions as needed to maintain service during the peak holiday season.
"Last year, approximately 20,000 seasonal positions were added to the FedEx workforce, and this year we expect seasonal hiring to be higher in response to increasing customer demand," said spokeswoman Katie Wassmer. "FedEx will add more than 500 seasonal positions in the district supporting Pittsburgh and Harrisburg to help handle the surge in holiday shipments at FedEx Ground, FedEx Home Delivery and FedEx SmartPost."
Staffing agencies don't play a huge role in the hiring of seasonal workers.
"Express does receive some seasonal orders around the holidays but not as many as you would think. We typically receive 'last minute' calls from businesses a day or two before their peak business days. We have, for the second year, received an order for extra personnel for Black Friday with a large retailer in the area," said Ami Ingold, owner of Express Employment Professionals, which has offices in Altoona and State College. "Most retailers have their own seasonal hiring drive and can hire enough personnel on their own to handle their peak business needs."
Busy time is spring
Home improvement companies like Lowe's and Home Depot will add their seasonal employees in the spring rather than over the Christmas holiday.
"Spring is our Christmas; that is when the home improvement industry is busiest, when the weather is more conducive and homeowners are getting their lawn and garden projects done in the spring," said Lowe's spokeswoman Karen Cobb. "I would expect in early 2014, we would be hiring a number of people for the seasonal positions we will have in 2014."
Like Carney, Kotzatoski and Cox, some of this year's seasonal employees likely will end up with permanent jobs.
"This is a way for the companies to audition people. Sometimes during the interview process it is hard to get a real read on how they might fit into the organization. If they see that a person is working hard and is reliable and they fit in, they can then make better hiring decisions," Challenger said.
"They have the opportunity to possibly stay on as part- or full-time employees if they enjoy customer service and are good at it. We are not going to keep everyone, but for some of those who are good, it is an an opportunity to get their feet in the door," Elko said.
Cox, who previously taught school while working part-time and is now pursuing a master of education degree in curriculum and instruction/children's literature at Penn State University's World Campus, has a piece of advice for today's seasonal employees.
"You need to show them you are serious about the job. If you are available, go in and do it. Prove that you want to be there," Cox said.