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Holiday hiring looks to be a little flat this year

 Both locally and nationally, the retail industry will apparently hire the same number of people this year that it hired last year. Still, the projected hiring numbers released so far aren’t bad, and the market is a lot better now than it was a few years ago.

If the first announcements of retail hiring plans are accurate, temporary hiring for the 2015 holiday shopping season should mirror the retail industry itself this year.

Solid, but nothing spectacular, and not really an improvement over last year.

United Parcel Service, the world’s largest deliverer of packages, is a case in point.

The international shipping service announced this month that it expects to hire up to 95,000 workers to handle extra business during the upcoming Christmas season.

That’s a solid number, and if your job is to place workers in temporary jobs, especially warehouse-distribution jobs, it’s good to hear that the world’s largest package delivery company expects a decent holiday season.

“I was pleased when I heard that,” said Sarah Cullins, senior account manager with First Rate Staffing in Ontario. “It’s a good sign, because it means UPS expects a lot of consumer business around the holidays. If you’re in the staffing business, that’s a gift.”

But that’s roughly 5,000 fewer workers than the Atlanta-based company hired last year at this time. UPS could be holding back because, during the last two years, holidays sales projections fell a little short and the company ended up with too many workers.

Whatever its reasons, UPS isn’t the only company playing it safe as the holiday season approaches.

Macy’s said it will hire 85,000 temporary holiday workers this year, about the same number it hired in 2014. Those positions will be filled at call, distribution and fulfillment centers throughout the country, the company announced.

Walmart, too, says it plans to hire 60,000 temporary workers between now and the end of December, the same number it hired one year ago.

While it’s still early, and a lot of retailers have yet to announce their holiday hiring plans, it’s possible that the three percent annual sales growth that retailers expect at Christmas during a good economy won’t happen in 2015.

Not everyone, however, is pessimistic.

“I think this year will be better than last year,” said Sonya Andrews, branch manager with Lyneer Staffing in Ontario. “It’s going to be a lot like 2013, when the warehouse-distribution centers in the Inland Empire were understaffed and they were outsourcing a lot of labor.”

Like First Rate Staffing, Lyneer Staffing places people in the logistics industry, usually in positions with starting pay of $9 to $10 an hour.

Lyneer Staffing expects to place about 200 workers this year, well below the 1,300 it placed one year ago, although most of those hires went to one client, Andrews said.

Andrews downplayed the UPS forecast.

“Ninety five thousand hires is a solid number, and that’s good news for UPS,” Andrews said. “But it’s not necessarily good news for us.”

Nationwide, U.S. retailers may add as many as 750,000 jobs this holiday season, about the same as last year but nearly 30,000 fewer than were hired in 2013, according to Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas, one of the oldest outplacement services in the United States.

To put that number in perspective, the U.S, retail industry added 325,000 jobs at Christmas 2008, the year the recession hit. This year anything below 650,000 jobs would be considered a disappointment, Challenger, Gray & Christmas said in its holiday hiring forecast.

A relatively strong economy is no assurance that retailers will ramp up their hiring during the last three months of the year. Last year’s retail job gains were four percent below the gains that were posted during the last quarter of 2013, when 786,800 retail jobs were added, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“Most analysts are anticipating healthy holiday sales this year,” said John A. Challenger, the firm’s chief executive officer, in a statement. “However, there are several factors that may prevent these strong sales expectations from translating into increased hiring. For one, we have seen increased hiring earlier in the year, which may preclude the need for a lot of extra hiring as the holidays approach.”

The less-than-spectacular hiring projections issued by retailers so far reflect the nature of the economic recovery, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, said Jesse Tron, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers in New York.

“We’re in a period of slow, steady growth, which is good because it’s sustainable,” Tron said. “Quick recoveries generally aren’t sustainable.”

Based on several economic indicators, including lower gas prices and higher employment year-over-year, Christmas hiring may be stronger than expected this year, Tron said.

“I think this will be a very solid season,” Tron said. “There are still a lot of [retailers] to hear from, but I like the UPS hiring number and I think the Walmart number is good. As long as the economy doesn’t have a dramatic shift we should be OK.”

Nationally, gasoline prices have fallen more than $1 a gallon during the past year, and that’s reason to be optimistic: it means consumers will have more money to spend, so they will buy more goods and create demand for more temporary hiring.

“We haven’t had a lot of spikes in gas prices this year, and that’s a good sign,” Tron said. “Gas prices have to be down for awhile before consumers feel it and are confident about spending.  If there’s a recent drop, even a big one, it doesn’t mean much. But I don’t see gasoline prices derailing anything this year.”

Merchants at Inland Center Mall in San Bernardino are likely to at least match the amount of Christmas hiring they did last year, said Terri Relf, the mall’s senior marketing manager.

Forever 21, one of the mall’s anchor tenants, is scheduled to hold a holiday job fair Wednesday, and other retailers have indicated they plan to beef up their workforce during the next three months, Relf said.

“Last year was a good year, and we should do well this year,” Relf said.

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