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Seasonal hiring outlook finds employers focused on finding permanent workers

Large-scale holiday hiring plans have been few so far this year.

The nation’s labor shortage could put a dent in holiday hiring.

That’s according to the 2021 Seasonal Retail Hiring Outlook from global outplacement and business and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The report noted that, ahead of the 2021 holiday season, retailers and other seasonal employers find themselves in the midst of a difficult labor shortage, raising wages and offering previously unheard-of benefits such as tuition assistance, child care offerings and signing bonuses to attract applicants.

“With just a few short weeks from the start of the holiday shopping season, retailers are announcing permanent hiring plans rather than seasonal ones,” said Andrew Challenger, senior VP of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

For example, Walmart recently announced hiring plans for 20,000 supply chain workers, but has yet to announce seasonal holiday hiring plans. A similar scenario is playing out at  Amazon, which since 2012 has announced an average of over 104,000 seasonal jobs each year, according to Challenger tracking.

On September 14, Amazon announced plans to hire 125,000 full- and part-time employees across the United States. That’s on top of an announcement earlier in the month in which the company said it was looking to fill more than 40,000 corporate and technology roles as well as tens of thousands of hourly positions in its operations network.

Despite the challenges, Challenger, Gray & Christmas predicts that retailers will add 700,000 workers during the 2021 holiday season. For the 2020 holiday season, retailers added 736,300 jobs—adjusted down from 788,600—a 10% increase from the 672,300 jobs added in October through December 2019. It is the highest number of jobs added during the holiday season since 2014, when 749,100 jobs were added, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

So far this season, UPS announced it would add 100,000 jobs for the holiday season, matching last year’s announcement. The retailers that have announced holiday hiring plans include Michaels Stores, which will hire 20,000 seasonal workers, up from 16,000 last season, and 1-800 Flowers, which plans to hire 10,000 seasonal workers, same as in 2020. Kohl’s hiring plans are also in line with last year, but the retailer has added a bonus to attract candidates.

“We will likely see more holiday hiring plans announced over the next month, but with the trouble retailers and transportation companies are having attracting workers for normal business periods, it will be interesting to see how many workers these companies will be able to hire,” said Challenger.

“The end of the expanded unemployment benefits may spur some workers to take these positions. However, myriad other issues could keep them from filling these roles, such as COVID concerns, vaccination statuses, child care issues, and burnout.”


According to non-seasonally adjusted data in the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) from the BLS, there were 1.2 million job openings and 732,000 quits in retail in July. That’s up from 876,000 job openings and 558,000 quits in retail in the same month last year.

Retail employment has not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. August employment in the sector is down 64,400 jobs from July, according to the latest BLS numbers. It is down 67,800 jobs from February 2020 and 278,100 jobs from the 15,564,200 employed in the industry in August 2019.

Transportation and warehousing, which have seen employment explode during the last five years as consumers increasingly went online to shop, added 493,000 jobs in October through December 2020, the highest on record, and up 67% from the 295,000 jobs added in the same period in 2019. Employment in this sector at 5,747,700 is up 140,700 jobs from August 2019 and up 1,800 from February 2020.

U.S.-based companies have announced 190,000 seasonal hiring plans, according to Challenger tracking. This is down from 301,700 hiring plans companies announced at this point last year.

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