HARRISBURG, Pa. — The COVID-19 crisis has affected virtually every industry. As the holiday shopping season rapidly approaches, the pandemic is shifting the retail industry’s seasonal hiring trends.
Retail sales plunged in the spring, hitting a low point in April, according to analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. They have since rebounded, but a larger percentage of sales are happening online.
Some retailers have reopened but not yet recovered, while some brick-and-mortar stores and malls remain closed.
Seasonal job postings are down 11 percent since this time last year, partially due to uncertain consumer holiday spending forecasts, according to Indeed Hiring Lab.
The shift to e-commerce has benefitted others, particularly online stores and delivery services.
Fed Ex held a walk-in hiring event Oct. 15 at the Sheraton Harrisburg Hershey Hotel in an effort to recruit 30 employees in the next few weeks.
“With the increase in e-commerce, more folks due to the pandemic are staying at home and ordering,” said Eric Hilton, talent acquisition specialist at Fed Ex Freight.
The pandemic has also created challenges for employers seeking to hire seasonal help. As of September 22, the share of searches for seasonal jobs on Indeed per million searches was 38% lower than the trend at the same time in 2019 and 2018, according to Indeed Data Labs.
Given the current national unemployment rate of 7.9 percent, it may seem counterintuitive that fewer people are applying for jobs.
Employees may have health concerns about work that involves face-to-face interaction, which constitute the bulk of seasonal jobs. A survey by consulting firm Korn Ferry found about half of employees were fearful of going back to work due to health concerns.
Some retailers are offering incentives to attract seasonal workers.
Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s held a national hiring event on Oct. 15 to hire 7,000 employees nationally, and 91 between its Bass Pro Shops location in Harrisburg and Cabela’s in Hamburg. Management said those hired would be offered flexible hours and receive benefits like a store discount of up to 45 percent.
“We’re in a great position. We’ve been busy all year round and this is the season that we always get busy. I know people are not having jobs and this is a great place to work,” said Marwane Selmane, co-manager of the Harrisburg Bass Pro Shops.
Interviews had to be set by appointment due to pandemic restrictions, limiting the number of applicants who could come in.
Cooper Mason, a 20-year-old man from Palmyra, came in the early afternoon for his appointment. He said he would enjoy working at the outdoor equipment store because he grew up bowhunting.
“I’m looking for right now, seasonal. If it turns into permanent, I'm ok with that,” Mason said.
Other companies hiring in Central Pennsylvania include Starbucks, Amazon and USPS.
For those currently job searching, PA CareerLink offers free career counseling and resources.
“In this time, don't be afraid to try something new, if you're looking to do a career change,” advised Todd Updegraff, program supervisor for PA CareerLink’s Capitol Region.