Oct. 24--As unemployment in the Bay Area remains low and competition for workers fierce, retailers all over the region are struggling to hire workers for the annual holiday shopping season.
It's not entirely new: Many retailers have had trouble in recent years keeping their stores and restaurants fully staffed. Some attribute it to an affordability issue -- residents can't work the often low wages of retail in the Bay Area and still afford to live here -- while others say the sheer volume of job opportunities can pull workers away in search of better options.
But the shortage seems to be intensifying.
Such is the case for Anna Chow, owner of Cheeky Monkey Toys in Menlo Park.
"Hiring has definitely been challenging," Chow said. "Up until this year ... we've had a really tenured staff who worked for us for five or 10 years, but now there are so many opportunities, different types of work and higher-paying work."
Typically, Chow hires three or four people to help out over the holiday season for tasks like gift wrapping and filling in for permanent employees. This year, however, she is already three people short on her permanent staff, leaving her current staff of 13 scrambling to prepare for the holiday rush without the six more people they would normally have.
Large retailers are feeling the crunch, too.
"The labor market is very competitive here in the retail world," said Melissa Simpson, recruiter for Whole Foods' Northern California region.
Whole Foods stores start their seasonal employment period in October through January, she said. Employees are needed to do nearly everything that permanent store employees would, from stocking shelves to preparing ready-to-eat meals to running the cash registers.
But the need for more workers increases as the stores get busier during the holidays, when many customers take advantage of Whole Foods' "holiday table" option, which makes ready-to-eat holiday feasts for customers to order.
With more options these days for jobs, workers may not want to invest the time and energy into retail positions that are short term.
"The holiday season ... is definitely incredibly busy, especially in areas that are mall oriented," said Stevie Miles, an Oakland resident who worked in different retail capacities for more than 10 years. Miles, who still works for a retail company but not as a store associate, said she loves the holiday hustle -- but it's not for everyone.
"Holiday retail jobs are temporary and a lot of work," she said. "You're signing up for a whole lot and may ultimately be let go."
Those who want to work temporary, seasonal jobs are often college students on break, Miles said, but their holiday breaks tend to start too late or are too short for the available positions.
Many retailers have realized the need to take extra steps to hire workers.
Bay Area Whole Foods stores offer a variety of perks to attract seasonal workers, including a 25 percent discount on products, extra pay for those who are scheduled to work on holidays, flexible hours and, for many, an opportunity to stay on for permanent positions, Simpson said.
Chow's toy store has lowered its minimum working age requirement from 18 to 16 and has altered its hiring ads to promote the fun of working for a toy store, she said.
For the first time, Target said it would host a two-day hiring event across all its stores nationwide to help it find the 70,000 seasonal store employees it needs, plus 7,500 employees for its distribution and fulfillment facilities for the holiday season. Those workers will replenish store inventory and fulfill the high volume of online orders it is expecting for the holidays, Target said in an announcement on its blog.
Similarly, Toys R Us has launched national hiring days to bring on seasonal employees. The company began hiring for its distribution centers in July, and it will continue to hire through December. It has increased wages and will offer holiday pay increases, additional merchandise discounts and special after-hours events for employees such as holiday parties, recognition and rewards.
The retailer will look to hire roughly 900 people across its 15 Bay Area stores, and thousands more across the country, according to a spokeswoman for the company. It expects to keep on about 15 to 20 percent of those workers permanently.
The pressure for seasonal help could be greater this season than in recent years.
The National Retail Federation said retailers are expected to hire between 640,000 and 690,000 seasonal workers this holiday season, comparable with last year's 675,300 new holiday positions.
The Bay Area's low unemployment (4.1 percent compared with the national average of 5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) is making for a tight labor market across many industries, according to Jon Osborne, vice president of strategic research at Staffing Industry Analysts, a workforce research group.
Retailers and other businesses facing hiring challenges may have to provide incentives like higher wages or use temporary staffing firms to fill positions, Osborne said.
"The reality is that yes, there is a tight labor market, but retailers have to weigh the benefit of having a person there against paying an extra two dollars an hour," he explained, adding that hiring extra staff to keep store operations moving efficiently could be a necessary investment.
"What happens if you see people leaving the long line (at a cash register) and the store," Osborne said of not keeping enough cashiers, as an example. "(Retailers) have no idea of how many people are leaving or how much business they are losing."
(c)2016 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
Visit the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) at www.eastbaytimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
© Tribune Content Agency, source Regional News