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With retailers facing supply chain issues and scrambling to hire, 'tis the season to start holiday shopping early. 'This isn't crying wolf this year'

Lauren Zumbach, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

In addition to the usual push to hire for the holiday rush, retailers are still catching up to pre-pandemic employment levels, Challenger said. There were 278,100 fewer people working in the sector in August compared with the same month two years ago.

“With a labor market with thousands of open jobs apart from holiday demand, that creates a real threat to the health of the business,” said Shannon Warner, a partner in consulting firm Kearney’s consumer practice.

Many retailers have been boosting pay to attract employees. Lululemon, which announced plans to hire 8,000 people in North America last month, including more than 100 in Chicago, said it will raise minimum wages to $15 or $17, depending on the employee’s role and location.

Dick’s Sporting Goods, which recently said it plans to hire 480 seasonal employees in the Chicago area and 10,000 nationwide, had two wage increases over the past year that collectively made for “upper single digits to low double digit kind of wage increases,” Chief Financial Officer Lee Belitsky said during an earnings call last month.

Others are offering bigger-than-usual signing bonuses, like Amazon, which is looking to hire 7,700 employees in Illinois as part of 125,000 new transportation and fulfillment jobs nationwide, on top of 75,000 new jobs the company announced in May. The Illinois jobs have an average starting wage of $16 per hour and can come with bonuses of up to $3,000 in certain locations, including the company’s warehouse in Monee.

Kohl’s, which is looking to fill nearly 1,800 open jobs in the Chicago area, is also dangling bonuses of $100 to $400 for employees who work through the holiday season.

An end to federal pandemic unemployment benefits earlier this month could push some people into the workforce, but it likely won’t prompt an “immediate bounce back,” Warner said.

 

People are still concerned about the delta variant and navigating child care issues, and workers have more options than they used to because so many industries have openings. That could be a hurdle for retailers, whose jobs may be more difficult than usual because of increased conflict with customers, particularly around mask policies, or a shift to online shopping that has store employees rushing to fill orders, Warner said.

Still, Amazon said Friday it received more than 500,000 applications for U.S. corporate, technology and hourly jobs since Sept. 1.

Hiring needs aren’t limited to retailer’s stores and warehouses. Package carriers UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service plan to hire 100,000, 90,000 and 40,000 seasonal employees, respectively, after a 2020 holiday season marked by shipping delays as consumers did even more of their holiday shopping than usual online.

UPS is offering weekly retention bonuses in certain areas including Chicago, where it aims to hire 5,000 people ahead of the holidays. It’s also emphasizing the potential to turn a seasonal job into a permanent role and streamlined the application process to make conditional job offers in as little as 30 minutes, said spokesman Dan McMackin.

This year’s job market is the tightest the company has seen, and unusually unpredictable, McMackin said.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I think our experience … will carry the day,” he said.

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