FORT LAUDERDALE — Although the market for seasonal jobs is shaping up to be a bit soft this year, now is the time to apply for those hoping to make some quick cash. But work may not be plentiful. Retail hiring will be the same or possibly slower than a year ago according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. "It would be surprising if holiday hiring exceeded last year's level," said John Challenger, CEO of the Chicago-based outplacement consulting organization. "Employment gains most definitely will not reach prerecession levels."
Many major retail chains began the hiring process in early fall to fill hundreds of temporary positions through the year's end.
Most retailers, from grocery stores to toy-selling giants such as Toys "R" Us and Walmart, have part-time options available. But they lack the incentive to add higher numbers of workers because many have higher rent, energy and wholesale costs, Challenger said.
Only 10 percent of retailers surveyed by the Hay Group, a management consulting firm based in Philadelphia, planned to hire more employees than last year. Even so, the survey predicted up to a 5 percent increase in sales this year over last year's holiday season.
Recently, electronics chain Best Buy Co. Inc. said it would hire only 15,000 seasonal workers nationwide, down from 29,000 a year ago.
In the past, Best Buy would hire about 15 employees per store in the South Florida area to help through the holidays, said Dennis Rosario, general manager of the Best Buy that opened in Davie in June.
"This year we are currently anticipating hiring seven to 10 extra employees for seasonal help," he said.
Some retailers, including TJ Maxx and Sears Holding Group, said they plan to hire about the same amount of seasonal workers as last year.
Major department store companies like Macy's and J.C. Penney will hire thousands across the country. JCPenney stores usually increase staff at each store by 20 percent during the holiday season, said company spokeswoman Sarah Kelleher. Macy's plans to hire 78,000 employees in Macy's and Bloomingdale stores for the season, and J.C. Penney will hire 35,000 nationwide.
A few are hiring more. Target hired 92,000 seasonal employees last year. The company plans to slightly increase hiring this year, said Eddie Baeb, spokesman for Target. And the Macy's hiring plans represent a 4 percent increase over last year, the company said.
Overall, retailers are heading into the holiday season with about 160,000 more workers than last year. And not all seasonal positions end up being temporary. Nearly 10 percent of the 2010 holiday work force is still employed at Toys "R" Us, said Katie Reczek, Toys "R" Us spokeswoman.
Some companies have turned to mobile technology to recruit seasonal help. Signs inside select Florida Target locations encourage job seekers to text "JOBS" and an e-mail address to a Target-owned phone number for more information.
"We're trying to make it more convenient for our busy guests, giving them another way to apply for seasonal positions in addition to our in-store kiosks and our website," Baeb said.
Even with a tepid hiring forecast, Challenger said applicants should not be overly discouraged because retail has some of the highest turnover rates of any industry.
"You may walk into a store one day and they are not hiring," said Challenger. "Walk in the next day, and they may have had an employee quit and plan to replace him."