Employers add to staffs as holidays near

Seasonal employee Ryan Christopher sorts merchandise Thursday at the Frederick Best Buy. (Frederick News-Post/Graham Cullen)

As store hours extend to accommodate deal-seeking Santas, most large retailers have to bring on extra elves to help out.

The National Retail Federation expects that up to 625,000 jobs will be created this holiday season, putting those seeking work into sales, customer service and other types of temporary positions. Walmart alone planned to hire 50,000 new associates this season, according to a September news release from the retail behemoth.

In the Frederick area, stores looking for holiday help also include Macy’s, Target, J.C. Penney and Best Buy. Managers say applicants range from teens to retirees.

“Normally we’ll start at the beginning of October and try to get everyone in about a month before Black Friday,” said Best Buy hiring manager Brian Webb.

Since October, about 40 new employees out of a pool of more than 100 applicants have started working at the Guilford Drive store. All of the store’s employees will be on the floor at some point Nov. 23 — also known as Black Friday, he said.

The majority of seasonal hires, according to Webb, are between 17 and 25. Most are in high school or college.

“I think a lot of people come on for the extra money and even the employee discount,” he said.

Webb started with Best Buy as a seasonal employee and slowly moved up in the ranks. During the holiday rush, some year-round employees will quit because of the extended hours and other stress factors, he said.

So, “at the end of the season, we allow some [seasonal] employees to decide if they want to stay on with us.”

According to Laurie Holden, the director of Frederick County Workforce Services, job seekers are encouraged to explore seasonal opportunities for that reason.

“What we do ask our candidates to remember is that you never know when a seasonal job may turn into a full-time, permanent job,” she said.

But for Lora Tolley, the manager at J.C. Penney in the Francis Scott Key Mall, it’s the initial hiring process that is posing a problem this year.

The holiday season goal is to hire about 45 associates, and the November goal was to hire between 25 and 28. So far, only 22 have come on board.

“There have not been as many people applying this year as in years past,” she said.

By comparison, the store in Washington County has all of its hiring for the holiday season done, she said, noting that it could be because the unemployment rates in the two counties are different.

Washington County’s unemployment rate in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was 8.6 percent. Frederick County’s rate was 5.4 percent.

Fortunately, Holden said, the store retained some quality employees that came in last year around this time. During the holidays, those associates are offered extended hours first as a reward for their service.

“We expand within, and then we reach out,” she said.

The store also has student workers who come back for every school break. Since they are already trained, they are a big help during the busy season, according to Holden. Other types of seasonal hires include adults looking for supplemental income for the holidays, she said.

Both Holden and Webb said pay scales for seasonal workers depend greatly on their background and position.

Tom England, of Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts in downtown Frederick, said seasonal hiring is far more common with chains than independently owned stores that don’t tend to extend hours as much or at all during the holidays.

“I’m not sure there is any difference in the hours we have, it’s just a lot more frantic,” he said.

It is also less common for small stores like England’s to have a lot of employee turnover. So, according to him, workers tend to have a feeling of loyalty to the employers and will grin and bear the holiday rush.

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