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All employers want some holiday help for Christmas. But their wish may not come true.

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Companies that typically hire thousands of seasonal employees are going on holidays during one of the toughest job markets in decades, making it unlikely they’ll get all the workers they need. For shoppers, this can mean a less than holiday shopping experience, staffed store aisles and online orders that take longer than usual to fill.

Job opportunities are already plentiful, giving job seekers an idea of ​​where they work. were there 10.4 million job opportunities 11.1 million openings in late August and a month earlier, the most on record since at least December 2000, when the government began recording that figure. At the same time, the Labor Department said that the number of job losses increased to 43 lakh in August, from 40 lakh in July.

Even before the holiday hiring season, employers were so desperate to find workers that they raised wages above $15 an hour, began offering four-figure sign-on bonuses, and increased their schooling. promised to pay. But it met with limited success. Employers will rely on existing employees to work more overtime if they don’t get needed workers in time for the holidays, which can be costly for businesses and lead to burnout for workers.

FILE – A Now Hiring sign hangs near the entrance of a Winn-Dixie supermarket on September 21, 2021.

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“I’ve never seen a market like this,” said Matt Lavery, UPS’s global director of sourcing and recruiting, who has worked on the hiring side of a package delivery company for 24 years. Talking about, you see a surge in candidates. We’re not seeing them.”

The increased unemployment benefits, which included a $300-a-week federal supplement as well as programs that covered gig workers and those unemployed for six months or more, expired in early September. It cut aid to about 7 million people. So far, however, the termination of those programs has had little effect on the number of people seeking work.

To snap up available employees as quickly as possible, UPS is trying a new strategy: Hire in 30 minutes or less. Taking too long to get hired could mean the applicant may have to go elsewhere. So the company has almost finished the interview, and does the entire recruitment process online.

Not having enough employees can be costly for companies. FedEx said it spent $450 million between June and August due to higher wages, overtime pay and other costs related to the tight job market.

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At one of its hubs in Portland, Oregon, FedEx has about 65% of the employees it needs. The company is diverting about a quarter of the packages that normally flow to other hubs it can handle. More than 600,000 packages are being resend a day, making service worse, said FedEx chief operating officer Rajesh Subramaniam during a call with investors last month.

FedEx said it needs 90,000 holiday workers this year, 20,000 more than last year. Others are hiring around the same levels as last year: Amazon, UPS and Walmart, each of which is currently trying to hire 100,000 or more people.

There are many reasons for the labor shortage, but they mostly revolve around the pandemic. The delta version has intimidated people into working in tight spaces with others, and most major employers that hire hourly workers don’t yet have mandatory vaccines. Child care issues leave people needing to stay at home, and many are saving money during the pandemic, giving them enough cash to avoid taking jobs they don’t want.

Another potential wrinkle: President Joe Biden’s announcement in September that employers with more than 100 workers would have to offer vaccines or weekly testing. It’s not clear when those rules will begin or how it will affect hiring. Companies that have already mandated vaccines have reported higher rates of vaccination. And a fully vaccinated workforce could make that employer more attractive to workers for fear of catching the virus. But some employers fret that the mandate could complicate hiring further.

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Some wonder whether employers who need vacation assistance will be able to find workers on time.

“It’s not looking good,” said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of hiring firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which predicts the retailer will add 700,000 employees during the holidays this year, 36,000 fewer than last year. .

In fact, searches for people looking for seasonal work on the job site for the week ending October 10 decreased by 13% compared to the same period a year earlier. And those searches were down 27% from 2019, before the pandemic began.

“Job seeker interest is sluggish,” said Ann Elizabeth Conkel, an economist at Indeed. “It just isn’t stopping.”

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Those already working in stores, warehouses and package delivery companies can work longer hours.

Target said it would hire 100,000 holiday workers this year, about 30,000 fewer than last year, but would give 5 million additional hours to its existing workforce, potentially pumping $75 million more in employee paychecks . Target’s employees are already working about 15% more than last year, but the retailer said they are asking for more hours. Target, which already pays workers at least $15 an hour, is planning to give store employees an additional $2 an hour when they work weekends and other busy days near Christmas.

Craig Rowley, who works on the retail and consumer goods team at Korn Ferry, a management consulting firm, said that if employers don’t get the staff they need, online orders could take longer because orders can be packed or delivered. There won’t be enough people to deliver. , especially as it gets closer to Christmas and more shoppers are online. And stores are likely to do away with late night or overnight hours because retailers want their current employees to work when stores are busiest.

“You’re not going to see wild extended hours because they can’t staff it,” Rowley said.

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AP Retail Writer Anne D’Innocenzio in New York also contributed to this story.