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Retail Trends

Holiday hiring: What's in store for 2012?

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As the unemployment rate stays painfully parked above 8 percent, we're all looking for some positive news on the jobs front. Fortunately, for many of those trying to reenter the workforce, ‘tis the season to find a job in retail.

Last year retailers hired 607,500 associates during the holiday season, up 7.9% from 2010 and higher than NRF was initially forecasting. And while we haven't released our holiday sales or employment forecasts, this much is true: regardless of whether the hiring number is slightly up, down or the same as last year, we're talking about hundreds of thousands of career opportunities for people all across the country.

The buzz about individual retailers' hiring plans has started. The Limited was first out of the gate this year, telling the Columbus Dispatch back in August that the company plans to hire 2,000 seasonal employees for its distribution centers, up from last year. Kohl's announced last week that it plans to increase its seasonal staff by 10% this year to a whopping 52,700 seasonal associates. The average store will need an additional 41 employees, and the company is also adding over 5,000 positions at distribution centers and warehouses. News from Target soon followed, with the company saying it plans to hire slightly fewer holiday associates than last year, though we're still talking about 80,000-90,000 jobs.

Last Friday afternoon, retail giant Walmart was out with even more hiring news, announcing plans to bring on an additional 50,000 workers this holiday season, slightly more than last year. And, the company said, current employees would be given the opportunity to work more hours if they desired.

Holiday hiring decisions require a bit of a wait-and-see approach for retailers, especially in the current environment as business leaders try to get a better sense of the state of the U.S. economy before making a final decision on the number of workers they need - and where they'll need them. There's no disputing the stakes are high: Hire too many people and you're spending more on training and wages than you should, hire too few and you've got the problem of too many customers with not enough associates to pack boxes, stock shelves or run the cash register.

As retail leads the U.S. economic recovery, there is always the hope that seasonal employment will turn permanent for those looking for career opportunities in our industry. For example, Target says that 30% of their holiday hires last year went on to hold long-term positions within the company - so in addition to making a little bit of extra pocket change, many may find their career path as well.