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Four tips to transition seasonal talent into brand ambassadors

Retailers are bolstering their workforces by cultivating the skills of seasonal staffers and transitioning them into full-time associates.

The labor market continues to tighten, forcing retailers to ramp up hiring efforts of full-time associates. This requires companies to think outside of the box when hiring and training their workforce — especially seasonal employees that they want to keep onboard long-term. Learn the strategies retailers are using to tap into a new talent pool at the upcoming SPECS 2020 conference, March 15-17, at the Gaylord Texan in Dallas.

To bolster their full-time workforce, more companies are cultivating the skill sets of temporary workers so they can transition into permanent associates. Retailers are quickly learning however, that this task requires more more than just offering competitive salaries. Instead, companies are offering new perks, innovative training, even cross-training opportunities in hopes of turning seasonal staffers into brand ambassadors.

Here are four strategies that can help transition temporary staffers into full-time employees:

• Up the stakes. Competitive salaries and benefits may attract seasonal workers, but that may not be enough to keep them aboard throughout — or beyond — the holiday shopping season. For example, when Target announced it would hire 120,000 seasonal workers at its stores and 7,500 workers at its distribution and fulfillment centers, it also offered associates $13 per hour (this is Target's starting minimum wage as of June 2019). 

To ensure it could retain its seasonal workforce, the company sweetened the pot with a 10% discount in stores and online, as well as an additional 20% wellness discount off fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables across the chain’s new Good & Gather Organic private label grocery brand, its C9 and Up & Up private lines, and tobacco cessation products. Temporary employees were also eligible to earn holiday pay on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

• Commit to training. A shorter holiday season gives retailers less time to get their holiday staff up to speed on processes and policies. Mentoring, job shadowing and “lunch and learn” sessions that introduce employees to skills in an informal setting are still alive and well. However, companies are also adopting technology solutions to get their temporary teams up and running. 

For example, Evo, a digitally native retailer of action sports lifestyle gear that operates four flagship stores, developed a virtual reality (VR)-based training experience to get its holiday workforce ready for the holiday rush. (The company is known to triple the 50-person workforce at its 170,000-sq.-ft. warehouse during the holidays. These additional hires enable the company to ship over 15,000 orders per day, up from a daily average of 750 orders.)

Similarly, Walmart has made a huge commitment to VR-based employee training programs. The company has a fleet of 17,000 headsets available at store-level, giving more than one million Walmart associates — both temporary and permanent — access to three core modules: new technology, customer service skills, and compliance.

• Cut out the middle man. Sometimes the easiest way to fulfill holiday shifts is to leverage existing employees. Enticing permanent workers with positions in other departments, extra shifts or seasonal bonuses may be the perfect way to create a holiday team.

Walmart is no stranger to this practice. The retail giant is known to offer extra hours to its current associates, and in some cases, they take on roles outside of their skill set. Among the positions they can be cross-trained for include cashier and stocker, and technology-driven roles, such as personal shoppers and pick-up associates. 

Kohl’s has also used this strategy to augment its army of holiday hires. 

• Start early. To get a jump on holiday hiring don’t focus solely on the traditional fourth quarter holiday shopping rush. For example, Kohl’s went on a hiring spree in July, a move that gave the department store retailer additional associates for the hectic back-to-school season. This workforce was also at the ready when the holiday season kicked off Black Friday weekend. 

When the department store retailer started filling this “early wave” of seasonal positions, associates took on roles across 500 stores. The rest of Kohl’s stores, along with its nine distribution and five e-commerce fulfillment centers, gained new associates through another seasonal hiring wave in August. 

Their training ranged from the use of handheld mobile devices to omnichannel and customer service functions — skills that are critical all year long, as well as during the busy holiday shopping season.

Additionally, this fall Kohl’s began staffing its 130-store “omni power center” pilot with up to 50 seasonal positions per store. These associates were trained to efficiently fulfill online orders in-store and process pick-up orders.

The company planned to round out its seasonal team with 90,000 new associates ready to help shoppers during the holiday rush.

“Our early seasonal hiring strategy positions Kohl’s for success during the back half of the year and ensures our store teams are fully staffed and trained to meet the needs of our customers during the holiday season,” said Marc Chini, Kohl’s senior executive VP, chief people officer.

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