Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, October 18, 2019

TN employers slug it out for holiday workers

Low unemployment, high demand mean more pay, perks

Delivery services such as UPS and FedX have begun hiring for the holidays. The explosion of online shopping has been a boon for delivery services and the state’s fulfillment warehouses. - Photo by Michelle Morrow | Hamilton County Herald

For those who had their pick of seasonal jobs during the 2018 holiday season, it’s a time of glad tidings: 2019 pickings are just as plentiful.

For those who are doing the hiring, it’s a time of great joy in terms of consumer enthusiasm. It’s also a great challenge to find the manpower to meet it. They are responding with flexible hours, bonuses, discounts, on-site meals and more.

Even though there are some pockets of higher unemployment in the state’s most rural counties, Tennessee continues to benefit from a strong economy. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reports all 95 counties saw a drop in unemployment in August. Eighty-nine of them had less than 5% unemployment.

The statewide rate was 3.5%, with Sevier and Williamson counties leading the pack at 2.5% and Davidson County coming close behind at 2.6%. Knox County reported 2.9%, Hamilton County 3.4% and Shelby County is at 4.1%

That means a small pool of people to pick from when it comes to staffing up the retail sector, whether that’s a one-location small business or a national retail chain in a busy shopping mall.

The same goes for the logistics sector and its warehouse and shipping facilities, which have a significant presence in Tennessee thanks to big players such as Amazon.

So here’s the question: Where can that seasonal worker get the most bang for his or her buck? The answer is going to vary.

A college student home for break will have limited time and might not be a good hire for a department store that needs people for a few weeks. They might, however, be able to pick up some income driving for Uber or landing another gig economy position.

That’s also an option for someone with a flexible schedule that allows for evening and weekend work but not much during the 9-to-5 window.

Basically, it comes down to what do people want to do, and when do they want to do it, say workforce staffing, hiring and recruitment experts.

“With the influx of seasonal hiring across a number of different job types and fields, there are a number of good opportunities for people looking to pick up work or extra work over the next few months,” says Greg Dyer, president of commercial staffing in-house and enterprise strategic accounts at Randstad US.

“Often, you can look to the number of job openings as a clue since jobs that have most openings mean they are, generally, in high demand and will likely pay more and offer more flexibility to workers – two factors that matter significantly to most people.

“In Nashville, for example, some holiday jobs in high demand are in customer service and light industrial. In Memphis, however, there is high demand for distribution jobs that support e-commerce.

It really varies from region to region and year to year.”

Job opportunities aside, it’s true that people are not always looking for the same type of work, Dyer adds.

“For example, parents and college students who want part-time work but have limited availability during traditional business hours might be more inclined to look at opportunities that provide optimal flexibility, or even remote-work jobs that allow them to work from home, like some online customer service opportunities.

“Retirees who are looking to pick up some extra work might want to focus on opportunities related to the fields in which they once worked. Every opportunity is different, so making the best money for your time and finding the best setting for your needs ultimately requires a commitment to doing a little research.”

That proactive approach works well for both sides of the hiring equation, adds Brenda Franklin, senior director of operations for Hire Dynamics, which recently opened a second Nashville office.

“The peak season this year will look much like 2018, which means it’s going to be very challenging for those who need to hire,” Franklin explains. “They need to continue thinking outside the box because that labor pool is getting smaller and smaller.”

Franklin says that most of these workers aren’t looking for a permanent job but rather to supplement current income. That means they are not hugely interested in benefits packages and the like, but are open to hearing about them.

In other words, if someone lands a great employee for the holidays, it’s worth seeing if they might convert to full-time afterward.

“In the past you have two groups: those who have been outplaced and will grab anything to get through until the first of the year, and those who are wanting supplemental income,” Franklin says. “There’s not a lot in that first group now, so you’re looking at those seasonal people.

“In Middle Tennessee, they tend to fall in age from as young as 20 to around 35, although 28 seems to be our ‘sweet spot’ in this region.”

So, what sweetens the pot for those holiday hires? Perks of all shapes and sizes.

“They want opportunities for flexible schedules, and retention and production bonuses come in play during the holiday season,’’ says Elizabeth Williams, executive vice president at Randstad, who manages the Tennessee market.

“We see those throughout the year, but they spike a bit during this period. That can be a discount on merchandise, gift cards, even tuition assistance so those employers can reach into the college age group to work during the holiday. They’ll bring in lunch or dinner so those people don’t have to leave.

“You’ll even see food trucks brought in because these employers know they really have to up their game to compete for workers during the holiday period.”

That’s especially true for logistics employers who face a tight labor market year-round and have to compete against other options that don’t involve warehouse work.

“There’s certainly a crunch there, and all through retail,” Williams says. “Manufacturing, warehousing, distribution – they are all challenged, both in Tennessee and around the country. They are working to market to the talent, because right now that side holds all the cards.

“Our advice is to work with states and universities on training programs to grow a pipeline, which many are doing, and also to ensure that their wages are competitive and they have some kind of incentives and a retention and engagement program so they can create a culture within their facility that makes it a place where people want to work, either over the holidays or permanently.”

On the employee side, be sure to look at any signing bonus or other incentive and make sure it’s worth whatever trade-offs you might be making, points out Chris Nichols, client solutions manager at Endevis, a recruitment process consulting and systems firm.

“There may be a sexy figure out there, but read the fine print,” Nichols warns. “It may pay out over six months or have some other obligation that has to be met. And sometimes places offering those bonuses have a lower starting wage, or another potential negative that could affect you.

“Something else may be out there that offers a better wage or a better work-life balance, so look at every offer carefully.”

And for all parties involved, Franklin says, “buckle up because you are in for a competitive and challenging holiday hiring season again in 2019.”