Hired for Christmas: How holiday temp work became a career

For Christmas 2005, Liz Stump got a job. Eleven holiday seasons later, it’s become a career.

“I was in here shopping and I saw the signs for job openings,” recalls Stump, who is now a department supervisor at the Palm Beach Gardens Toys R Us store. “And I thought it’d be fun to work in a toy store, so I applied.”

Thanksgiving puritans aside, the 2016 holiday shopping season is here. With the nasty 2016 elections history, Americans are especially ready for the festivities and cheer.

Malls are decorated. Stores are piping carols. And all kinds of companies, from retail chains to package shipping companies, have hired thousands of temporary employees to get through the crush of holiday buying, selling and delivering.

Nationally, Amazon plans to add 120,000 seasonal workers, while Target is hiring more than 70,000 people. Locally, Palm Beach Outlets held a pre-Halloween job fair to fill, among other positions, holiday posts. It’s not just retailers, though. Call center company Global Response is hiring more than 700 temp workers, too.

Ever wonder what happens to all of those hires once the season’s good tidings have passed? It seems a good number of them, like Stump, do transition from temporary workers to permanent employees.

Maybe they get the permanent job offer as the decorations are coming down in January. Or maybe they get a call to come back in February. Point is, seasonal work can be a path to permanent.

For Stump, all she was looking for in October 2005 was a part-time job. At the time, she was a radiology student wanting a little income while attending school.

Pretty soon, though, she decided a career in retail, not health care, was her future.

“I just decided the medical industry was not for me,” she said, even after obtaining her radiology degree in 2008. “I love working in retail. I love working with customers. I love interacting with people.”

Sure enough, as soon as she was done with college, Toys R Us offered her a full-time gig.

She started in customer service, moved into logistics and then on to human resources. Today, Stump, now 32, is the equivalent of an assistant store manager-in-training running the front end of the store, everything from customer service to cashiers.

This year, Toys R Us said it expects to hire around 200 temporary workers for its five Palm Beach County locations, and as many as 2,000 across Florida. Some 15 percent to 20 percent of the total, national seasonal hires could get permanent jobs.

Bill Galligar, the Toys R Us store manager in Palm Beach Gardens, said companies use the holidays as a way to test out potential future employees.

Generally speaking, Galligar said his store has a full-time staff of 30 people. But when the holidays roll around, that roster could triple as store hours stretch past midnight, and overall store operations run 24 hours a day.

Individuals hired for the holidays ultimately may be asked to handle all of a store’s functions, from ringing up sales to unloading trucks to restocking shelves.

“I look at it as a tryout,” said Galligar. “It’s really not that different from the way sports teams bring in players for tryouts as a season progresses.”

Because of turnover, a store may offer some permanent positions to seasonal hires right after the holidays. Others may get a callback later on as positions open up.

“A lot of our team started as seasonal,” Stump said. Then, jokingly, she added: “If you can survive a toy store in November or December, you’ve proven you’re pretty amazing.”

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