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Published: Thursday, 10/1/2009

Job outlook for holidays predicted as ho-ho-hum

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Job-seekers hoping for a part-time paycheck last year had a glum Christmas as businesses cut seasonal hiring by nearly 63 percent from 2007.

This year's seasonal job outlook has the potential to be just as bad. "I think retailers are going to look to keep costs down, keep staffing levels fluid based on demand," Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, said.

That's bad news for the 14.5 million unemployed Americans, many of whom failed to find seasonal work last year when holiday spending fell 3.4 percent. The sharp spending drop led to the steep hiring drop, which had averaged 591,000 holiday season jobs between 2004 and 2007. There were 231,000 such jobs last year.

The Hay Group, a human-resources consulting firm in Philadelphia, polled 25 top retailers and found that 10 said they will hire 5 percent to 25 percent fewer seasonal workers than last year.

Those lucky enough to have landed seasonal jobs last year are eager to reclaim them. For example, Hickory Farms Inc. of Maumee, hires about 4,000 seasonal workers. Normally, it would have begun advertising for those positions by now, but the firm experienced a whopping 95 percent return rate this year for employees who worked for the company last year, Chief Executive Officer Mark Rodriguez said.

"We already have our key jobs filled," he said. "We're sort of developing a reputation as an employer of choice, but on the other side of it is the economy, and I'm sure that had a big influence in the decision of many to return."

Greg Kelley, work force planning manager for UPS's Metro Detroit District, which includes Toledo, said the delivery firm's seasonal hiring plans aren't set yet. "But based on what I'm seeing, we will hire a reduced seasonal work force," he said.

The firm may need more driver's helpers, but it's unclear whether it will need package handlers or additional drivers, Mr. Kelley said.

Charlene Scott, manager of Levis Commons retail village in Perrysburg, said stores there have been getting calls about seasonal hiring since early August. But indications are retailers there will hire fewer seasonal staffers and offer full-time employees additional work hours this holiday season.

"Stores are hiring, but they probably will not be hiring even to the extent they were hiring last year from what I can tell," she said. "They're cutting back on costs, inventory levels, are probably more moderate on their sales estimates. They are doing seasonal hiring to some extent, but just not as much as last year."

At Westfield Franklin Park, only three retailers are hiring for the holiday season, but others plan to start hiring in the next two weeks, Sara Young, the mall's spokesman, said.

"Most say they're hiring about the same amount as last year, but there are a few exceptions. Bath & Body Works said they plan to hire up to 30 sales associates for the holidays," she said.

At the J.C. Penney store at Franklin Park, hiring could equal that of last year, manager Priscilla Sherrod said. But it could swing 10 percent in either direction, depending on sales. "We were slightly down last year in the number of part-times from the previous year," she said. "We started hiring about two weeks ago. We'll have to see how it goes."

The retail federation won't be releasing its holiday sales forecast for another two weeks. However, the International Council of Shopping Centers made its projections last week, saying holiday sales will increase by a tepid 1 to 2 percent this season.

"That is not strong, but it is likely to be much better than in 2008 and signals better times ahead in 2010," ICSC economist Michael Niemira wrote in his forecast report.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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