Wanted: Temporary Holiday Workers

Retailers across the country are accepting applications for temporary, seasonal positions, and industry experts say the total number of hires will likely be on par with last year's totals. Scott Detrow of member station WITF visits an outlet mall in Lancaster, Pa., to see how many stores are looking for help.

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Across the country, retailers are accepting applications for temporary positions this holiday season. Seasonal hiring might offer a bit of a break for people looking for work. Scott Detrow of member station WITF in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania has more.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: 18-year-old Tyler Albinus is walking from store to store in a Lancaster, Pennsylvania outlet mall, looking for a job. He's been searching for more than a month now and has lost track of how many applications he's filled out.

TYLER ALBINUS: Oh, I don't even know how many. I applied at every – pretty much every store over at Tanger. I got a weekend job over at Dutch Wonderland right now. But just everywhere.

DETROW: The high school grad may be in luck - for the next two months at least. About two-thirds of the stores in the outlet mall he's visiting plan to bring on part-time workers for the holiday shopping season.

DANIELLE EISEN: Probably three or four people we'll be hiring for the holiday season. They'll be part-time, and they'll probably be on our staff for about six to seven weeks.

DETROW: Famous Footwear Manager Danielle Eisen says her location has seen steady sales over the last few years, so the store is bringing on the same number of holiday workers it did in 2010.

EISEN: Shoes are not a luxury item. They are a necessary commodity.

DETROW: This year's seasonal hiring forecast is on-par with last year's, according to Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a company that studies the job market and tries to link people up with openings.

The group expects retailers to hire a bit fewer than 700,000 temporary employees this year. That's about where the national total was in winter 2007, before the recession fully took hold, and nearly two times the 2008 figure. Chief Executive John Challenger says major retailers have already spent months figuring out how many part-timers they'll hire.

JOHN CHALLENGER: They look at their back to school season in late summer. Those numbers were relatively flat. Wasn't a positive back to school season. But now they're looking at the Halloween season, trying to determine what happened.

DETROW: Challenger says most retailers have an in-house economist who's studying larger market trends, as well. Stronger-than-expected GDP growth may give companies more confidence, which could lead to more hires. One big hurdle for job-seekers: many companies simply tap former employees, or other people they already know, to fill the holiday demand.

Analyst John Challenger's advice for people trying to get in the door: fill out a form in-person, not over the phone. And don't take a non-response for a final answer.

CHALLENGER: And keep on calling until they tell you no. Because these jobs - these retail jobs, particularly, are not high-paying. Often just above minimum wage. So a lot of people come in and out of them.

DETROW: It doesn't sound like a glamorous gig. But job-seeker Tyler Albinus says he'd take it.

For NPR News, I'm Scott Detrow.

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