Seasonal Hiring Picks Up

Oct 2, 2012

It’s time for additional hiring in some industries, as we head into the holiday season. WNPR’s Sujata Srinivasan reports on the outlook for seasonal employment this year.

Connecticut retailers are cautiously optimistic at what could be a promising holiday season. A key indicator, the Consumer Confidence Index measured by the Conference Board rose nine points this September, rebounding to levels seen earlier in February. Timothy Phelan is president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association.

“So if consumer confidence remains on the uptick, I think you’ll see a correlation of an increase in seasonal hiring by retailers.”

Local numbers are looking strong. Patrick Flaherty, economist at the Connecticut Department of Labor, says despite a drop in August, retail hiring is up by over a thousand jobs from a year ago.

“What I would say is that the trend is definitely up. And that we’re seeing a stronger retail sector particularly this year than we saw last year. And if that continues into the holiday season, we’ll see considerably more hiring this year than last. And I think five to 10% is a certainly reasonable estimate.”

Seasonal hiring is tied to consumer demand for services. So hiring in the tourism recreation sector will fall overall now, though some businesses will recruit more than others, Flaherty says.

“While we’ll have more people in the apple picking business, we’ll have fewer people who are summer camp counselors and lifeguards. And so this sort of tourism recreation sector, which is sort of how we classify the data, you know some of the real hiring that happens around recreation is really summer oriented and so that’ll be decreasing.”

At Holmberg Orchards & Winery in Gales Ferry, seasonal employee Luke Kalbach guides a family around for pick-your-own apples. In a down economy, people are choosing to spend a little bit at a time, making affordable day trips. So orchard visitor numbers have stayed pretty level, says fourth generation farmer Amy Holmberg.

“We have about 15 folks on our year-round payroll and that increases up to 35 to 40. So it’s still categorized as a small business, but it’s more than doubling for us, our busy season.”

It’s a sweet job for those who enjoy the outdoors and many keep coming back.

“Retirees, sometimes stay-at-home moms, it’s a great time to stash away some Christmas money.”

At the upscale restaurant Mill on the River in South Windsor, it’ll be a busy time with weddings and corporate Christmas parties. Owner Helmar Wolf says he has job vacancies, but finds that many people are reluctant to give up their state unemployment benefits for a seasonal job.

“I would certainly hire at least 8 to 10% of seasonal workers but the ones that are here applying for a job they wouldn’t want to go and take on a job like this because they’re not willing to give up the benefits that they’re receiving.”

Wolf, a board member at the Connecticut Restaurant Association, has 220 employees at four Connecticut restaurants. He says he wants to hire more.

“The seasonal employee, if they’re only 16 years old, for example we need bus boys in the banquet department. Then there are restrictions. They can’t be working after 10’0 clock at night for example. Well you know what, if I have a party that ends at 11, what am I going to do? Keep it messy and then I have a health inspection in the morning?”

Connecticut’s recovery is not as vigorous as many economists had hoped. But if seasonal hiring meets the Department of Labor’s expectations, the glass might be more half full than half empty.

For WNPR, I’m Sujata Srinivasan.