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The 2016 Holiday Hiring Season: Higher Wages Ahead

The 2016 Holiday Hiring Season: Higher Wages Ahead

By: Catherine Conlan

The 2016 holiday hiring push is on, and as employers scramble for seasonal hires, they’ll be competing hard to find top talent. 

The retail, delivery and logistics industries added hundreds of thousands of seasonal jobs during last year’s holiday season and expect to do so again this year. For example, Target has said it expects to hire more than 70,000 seasonal employees, plus another 7,500 jobs for distribution and fulfillment. 

Experts say some employers will have higher hourly wages for retail employees during this holiday hiring season. “On the one hand, there is some softening in the retail environment; on the other hand, there is absolutely upward pressure on wages,” says Steve Goldberg, president of The Grayson Co., a retail and investment consulting company in New York City.

Here’s what it will take to keep up with holiday wages.

Understand the Factors Driving Wages
Wage pressure is real, including from relatively low unemployment and higher pay by competitors, says Jan Rogers Kniffen, a retail consultant headquartered in New York City. 

It’s no surprise then that holiday workers are likely to be harder to get this season. With the national unemployment rate holding at 4.9 percent in August, job candidates have options. “They’re a little more discriminating today,” Goldberg says.

The push for higher minimum wages -- whether from local laws, public pressure or leading retailers -- will also be a factor. 

“Wal-Mart set a new standard last year for the minimum wage, and everyone else pretty much followed suit,” Kniffen says. “And in some areas of the country, new minimum wages have become the law.” These changes are easier for larger employers to absorb, making it especially challenging for smaller employers to meet their seasonal hiring needs.

Compete on Brand Differentiators
Seasonal employees aren’t looking just for higher wages, experts say. “There are different expectations now,” Goldberg says. “Even though employees want the work and need the work, they have high expectations about how they’ll be treated in the workplace.”

Goldberg says employers will need to identify “smart, economical ways” to meet those expectations. Better working environments, flexible schedules, paid training, discounts and other perks can help attract seasonal hires when you’re not able to compete on seasonal hiring salaries

Make sure to talk up these benefits to potential candidates, especially in job postings and during the interview process.

Start your Recruit Early
Getting the word out now about your wages and generous benefits will help give you an edge on holiday hiring. But in order to compete successfully, the earlier you start your recruiting outreach the better.

“We have to recruit way ahead of time to build the right pool of people and test and train them in our way of doing things,” says Vijay Goel, co-owner and chief operating officer of Bite Catering Couture in Los Angeles. Goel says the company notches 40 percent of its annual revenue in the fourth quarter.

It’s a science and an art to determine your staffing levels, so review past seasons and your forecasts to get a good idea of the hiring levels you might need. 

“It means we have to invest more and allow for more flexibility, but I think it gives us a much higher quality team when the high season comes around,” Goel says.

Get your holiday hiring in gear -- check out our Holiday Hiring Guide.