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Working in America: The Busiest Season — Working Year-end in the US

In the American working economy, from retail and manufacturing to ecommerce and logistics, there’s never more demand than when the year-end holiday season approaches. “This is our favorite time of year,” says Amazon Vice President Mike Roth in a recent interview. “We love serving customers during the busy holiday season and we’re excited to bring on more than 120,000 seasonal employees this year to support growing customer demand.”

For many American workers, the season offers opportunities ranging from taking on a second shift, banking overtime pay or even making their first career move into an industry or company where they’d like to work.

Business analysts and CEOs anticipate a year-over-year increase in revenue gains from the 2015 holidays. According to projections from the National Retail Federation, sales (excluding autos, gas and restaurants) in the last two months of this year are expected to increase “a solid 3.6 percent to $655.8 billion — significantly higher than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent and above the seven-year average of 3.4 percent since recovery began in 2009.”

From our unique vantage point in the American working economy, we know sectors like warehousing and distribution, ecommerce and customer service have been anticipating their busiest year-end in years. With the seasonal rush now upon us, we wanted to get the perspective of the American workers on the frontline of the busiest season. We asked Eddie Beaver, an Aerotek market research analyst, what’s behind the numbers when it comes to the people filling this intense spike in demand for workers. “Some people who are out of work or in between jobs are attracted to the higher pay employers offer to fill the surge in openings. Others who are already working, take advantage of the opportunity to work a second job to get ahead in their finances or save for specific goals,” Eddie explains.

Three men packing boxes.

Industry experts point out several trends driving this seasonal surge, and unsurprisingly, ‘act like Amazon’ is a top motivator. According to retail industry analyst Karl Siebrecht, “Amazon’s influence will continue to expand. Amazon has fundamentally transformed supply chains from what have traditionally been cost centers into a revenue driver.”

Siebrecht also cites a number that he believes is one of the most telling of all year-end business trends: 10 percent. That’s the percentage of retail business analysts project will continue to shift from brick-and-mortar stores to online in the 2016 holiday season. According to market research firm eMarketer, “online sales this holiday season — defined as November and December — will hit $94.7 billion this year, or a record 10.7 percent of total projected holiday sales of $884.5 billion.”

As the chart below from eMarketer illustrates, the trend of year-end retail business moving towards ecommerce is accelerating at a considerable pace.

U.S. retail and retail commerce holiday season sales growth chart

The holiday shopper inside us all clearly recognizes the convenience and sometimes the cost-savings of doing some, or even all, of our year-end shopping online. But behind these numbers is an even more interesting trend from the workers’ point of view — the increasing demand to support this growth in ecommerce, and the commensurate increase in shipping and customer service demands, during the holiday season.

For an on-the-ground view into the year-end workplace, we spoke with Nathan Coin, manager of divisional operations for Aerotek’s Commercial Division, based in Houston, Texas. We were curious to understand more about the increasing year-end demand, but even more about the people filling these jobs.

“It’s a really diverse mix of workers and not just by skillset, but in what’s motivating them to take on these contract jobs during the year-end season. Some are people who, for whatever reason, aren’t currently looking for long-term jobs but are prime candidates. Picking up year-end work, along with the extra income, is what they’re after. Some are moms or students, people looking to supplement their household income but not in the market for longer term contracts or employment. But there’s another group of workers who see this as the great opportunity it is for getting into a career or working at a company they’ve always wanted to work with,” Nathan says.

This angle intrigued us and we asked Nathan to explain more about this emerging breed of contract workers. “Since September alone, we put more than 25,000 people to work on short-term contracts supporting year-end initiatives for our clients. These are people going to work with some of the biggest and most prestigious companies in America, national retailers, healthcare and ecommerce companies. The contract jobs they take range from customer service to warehousing and shipping. Even though these contracts are over after the holidays, many of these companies will recruit from the best and brightest seasonal contactors for longer term positions,” says Coin.

“Essentially these short-term contracts allow the workers to get a feel for the business, pick up some new skills and add a big company’s name to their resume,” Nathan said. “The employer gets a chance to audition possible talent to work in more permanent jobs in the future when openings arise.”

We asked Nathan what employers were looking for in a short-term worker that might increase contract workers’ prospects for longer term employment, and he didn’t hesitate: “Soft skills. For these kinds of jobs, the companies have gotten pretty good at getting the new worker up to skill-level on whatever the task might be. What you can’t teach, at least as easily or quickly, are the soft-skills like showing up on time, being proud of work done well and a professional attitude under pressure.”

In terms of meeting the challenges these companies face filling so many positions in such a concentrated period, Nathan added, “We start planning and working with our top clients early in the first quarter, long before the contractors need to start showing up for work. As you can imagine, sourcing thousands of contractors for a single business is a complex undertaking. These businesses, as big as they are, couldn’t fill this huge need for labor alone. Companies like Aerotek offer them a degree of elasticity, specialization and scale they could never achieve on their own. That’s what we do.”

Call center customer service employees on the phone.

We remained fascinated by the size of the massive and diverse workforce that comes together each year for an intense two-month period, only to melt back into the labor pool after the holidays. But from the interview of Amazon executive Mike Roth, we note this intriguing statistic, “Last year alone [2015], more than 14,000 seasonal employees stayed on in regular, full-time positions after the holidays and we expect to increase that number this year.” That’s a considerable number of American workers who used this short-term opportunity to secure full-time employment.

We checked back in with our market research analyst Eddie Beaver to better understand what this trend means for workers in America. “There are ambitious workers who see this short-term work as a critical proving ground for getting a leg up into the ranks of the full-time working professionals,” Beaver explained. “If they make the grade and the work is there, they have the opportunity for a future with the company. But even if extending their assignment isn’t immediately possible, they’re gaining valuable skills and practical work experience. Plus, they now have a large, well-known company on their resume. These workers are consciously investing in their long-term career and their value in the workplace. What’s interesting is another workplace trend — the increasing adoption of ecommerce as the primary platform for doing business in the retail category. This creates a huge demand for warehousing, distribution and customer service workers we didn’t see before. Plus, increasing ecommerce sales aren’t limited to the holidays. Consumers are consistently increasing the number and type of purchases they make online. Increasingly, ecommerce-based businesses are hiring and re-hiring the same workers throughout the year for additional tours of three to six months, or even making them permanent hires.”

Worker scanning barcode on a box.

As the country moves full throttle into this 2016 peak holiday and year-end season, we continue to keep our finger on the pulse of working in America. We remain inspired by the ingenuity and creativity of the American workforce. Here at Aerotek we bear daily witness to the incredible spirit of energy and resourcefulness of the American worker. Motivated by the drive to provide for ourselves and our families, the people who power our country in jobs as diverse as warehouse workers, call center support staff, ecommerce software engineers and auto assembly workers show up and deliver on the job. The companies we work with — from the largest publicly held businesses to enterprising local small businesses — can attest to the critical role these people play in keeping the country’s economy steaming ahead.

We’re proud of the role we play in keeping America working and keeping American businesses thriving and growing. Especially this time of year, we as Americans are reminded of the many benefits of living, shopping and working together.

The busy season isn’t over after the holidays. With the advent of ecommerce, additional headcount is required to support the influx of returns, not to mention all of the purchases being made with gift cards. Interested in some extra work, or looking for a long-term position in the New Year? Check out our job board, or create a profile today to kick off your job search.