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Changing retail sector still needs seasonal workers

November 23, 2018

Despite major upheaval in the retail industry, the demand for additional workers in the holiday season is one thing that hasn’t changed.

“There is no question that retail is down from where it was, but it is also very large,” said Patrick Flaherty, an economist with the state Department of Labor.

While the alleged “retail apocalypse” has seen big box brands like Toys R Us and Sears falter, Flaherty said he expects the state will still see a spike in hiring, while other sectors will also add to the demand for skilled labors.

In the months of November and December, the National Retail Federation expects retailers will hire between 585,000 and 650,000 workers nationwide, up from 582,500 a year ago.

In Connecticut, Flaherty said the retail sector would add about 10,000 jobs during the holidays, maintaining its consistency in spite of the current state of the industry.

“Our expectations are that we are going to see a bit fewer than in the past but not a whole lot fewer,” he said. “The behavior of the companies that hire up even though it is somewhat a smaller sector — that pattern is still going to exist,” Flaherty said.

Connecticut’s retail industry has lost around 4,000 jobs in recent years, but that is a small dent in the remaining 179,000 positions statewide.

“It’s not like retail has disappeared,” Flaherty said. “Retail has started to contract a little bit and have some shift in consumer patterns in retail towards folks buying online and having them deliver it to their house.”

Different job types

The National Retail Federation reports that retailers are also looking to fill a wide range of jobs that do not get counted as “retail” by Bureau of Labor Statistics, including office and administrative positions along with transportation and logistics jobs.

“What people don’t realize is besides the brick-and-mortar retail, the whole transportation and logistics part of the businesses is really what is skyrocketing,” said Bill Villano CEO of Workforce Alliance, an employment center based in New Haven County.

The organization hosted roughly 25 hiring events as they looked to fill about 1,200 positions starting in October, including the newly opened Boscov’s in the Connecticut Post Mall in Milford.

The store replaced the former J.C. Penney after its closure last year, which left a large hole in the mall.

Jobs in the transportation and warehouse sector are also expected to see an increase in hiring, according to Villano, who said Workforce Alliance has also hosted events for Amazon’s Wallingford facility as well as FedEx and Macy’s logistics centers.

“You may not work in a store, but you might work in a distribution center,” he said.

Shifting demographics

While the demand for seasonal work is intact, employers may find it hard to fill the positions with the right people, according to market observers.

“People aren’t as inclined to need a second job to supplement their household income, so the job candidates that they are getting tend to be less skilled workers and, in some cases, they might be younger that experienced folks,” said Tom Long, of the Workplace in Bridgeport.

Particularly with positions in logistics and transportation, job requirements and limits may remove some candidates vying for work.

“Those aren’t the same skill set as the people who hope to work in retail and cash registers and interact with the public,” said Flaherty. “In terms of the overall economy, the warehousing and transportation jobs are just as good and, in some cases, even better than the retail jobs because of the pay rate and the benefits that come with it and the hours.”

Jordan.grice@hearstmediact.com

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