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Retailers hold the line on holiday hires -- except one

Even though analysts forecast that holiday spending will increase this year, the number of seasonal hires is likely to hold steady or even be lower than last year’s pace. Why? Consumers are flocking to the internet rather than the mall. The trend is changing both those doing the hiring as well as the skills required to get the jobs.

Sales excluding those for autos, gas stations and restaurants are projected to rise 3.6 percent to $655.8 billion in November and December, while nonstore sales should climb between 7 percent and 10 percent to as much as $117 billion, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), an industry trade group. 

Meantime, the NRF and outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas expect retailers to hire roughly 700,000 seasonal workers this shopping season, largely in line with last year. 

Still, that lackluster pace of anticipated holiday hiring shouldn’t be viewed as reflecting a negative turn in labor trends, according to Andrew Challenger, a vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas.  

“Even though we think hiring is going to be flat, it’s not an indicator of a stall in the job market or the economy. It’s the opposite,” Challenger told CBS MoneyWatch. “Companies have done so much full-time hiring during the other three-quarters of the year, [and] now a lot of metro areas are facing shortages and can’t hire enough people.”

The big exception is Amazon (AMZN), which last week said it would hire more than 120,000 seasonal workers in 27 states, an increase of 20 percent from 2015. The online retailer said it expects more than 14,000 seasonal positions would transition to regular, full-time jobs after the holidays.

“The big change and big announcement this season was Amazon,” said Challenger, who noted the company’s seasonal additions in 2016 are more than double the 50,000 holiday hires it made four years ago.

“Different companies are doing the hiring than in the past,” said Challenger. “Traditionally, holiday hiring has always been in the front: cashiers, salespeople and clerks on the floor.” But with the way people are buying holiday gifts, the jobs have transitioned to backrooms and warehouses, where processing orders and shipping takes place.

What was once a manual labor job now requires some tech skills to navigate the software, said Challenger. “You have to be comfortable with computers to do the shipping and handling parts of this work.” 

After Amazon (AMZN), United Parcel Service (UPS) is the second-largest employer of holiday workers, with plans to hire 95,000 people, on par with 2015. FedEx (FDX) plans to bring 50,000 seasonal workers onto its payrolls, 5,000 less than last year.

More traditional retailers, however, are hiring roughly the same, or fewer, workers for the holidays. 

Macy’s (M) is hiring 83,000 seasonal workers for its stores, call centers, distribution and online fulfillment centers, a slight decline from the 85,000 temps it hired in 2015.

Walmart (WMT), which hired about 60,000 seasonal workers last year and 2014, said it’s still finalizing its holiday hiring plans, while rival Target (TGT) plans to add 70,000 seasonal employees, as it did last year. 

Kohl’s (KSS) is set to add 69,000 seasonal workers, down from the 79,160 hired in 2015, while JC Penney (JCP) plans to add 40,000 temporary workers, up from 30,000 last year.

Outside of retail, Gaylord Opryland Resort is gearing up to fill more than 300 seasonal positions. The Nashville, Tennessee-based company says employee perks include a free meal every work day, along with access to its fitness center and resort discounts.