Everything Kitchens, a kitchen supply store in Springfield, has struggled to hire enough seasonal workers for the holidays. (Photo by Jack McGee)

Seasonal hiring around the holidays presents new challenges and requires a new approach for Springfield employers in a tight labor market. 

Between increased wages, supply chain shortages and heightened inflation, some Springfield employers have had to approach this holiday season differently than they have in years past.

“Now Hiring” signs are still a common fixture of Springfield drivers’ commutes, and for certain industries, the holiday season intensifies those hiring challenges.

Low unemployment, high inflation persist

Greene County’s unemployment rate is actually higher than it was last month by .04 percent, sitting at 2 percent in October. However, it’s still .08 percent less than it was a year prior, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and nearly half that of the national unemployment rate of 3.7 percent.

Even with an overall decrease in employer demand nationally, especially among some of the biggest seasonal employers, there are still plenty of postings for temporary, holiday-related jobs in Springfield. Many of them are among retail, delivery and transportation, said Katherine Trombetta, the communications coordinator for the Springfield Department of Workforce Development.

“A number of companies here in town, both the big box retailers and smaller mom and pops, rely on seasonal help quite a bit,” Trombetta said.

Even so, Trombetta said that Springfield is somewhat reflective of national trends, in that demand for seasonal work is down 8.2 percent from 2021, according to Hiring Lab, the economic research arm of Indeed. 

Their research also found job postings indicating an urgent need to fill seasonal positions dropped from 10 percent to 6 percent. However, employer demand remains 5.2 percent higher than pre-pandemic levels.

“We just kicked off the holiday season with Black Friday, and so, I know in late September and October, there were some major retailers who came out and said [they’re] going to be doing seasonal hiring, but they were going to be doing less of it,” Trombetta said, giving companies such as Walmart and Macy’s as examples. 

Interactive “Believe” holiday sign next to Macy’s in Battlefield Mall. (Photo by Jack McGee)

“And so I think overall nationally, seasonal retail hiring is down, and I think that is attributed to retailers anticipating lower sales this year due to inflation… So there’s that anticipation that consumers are being much more savvy with the deals they’re getting.”

Matt Morrow, the president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, said some of the hiring tactics used by employers during the holidays are becoming more common throughout the year.

“There’s such a tight crunch on labor availability year round now,” Morrow said. “Many of the same tools that someone might execute or implement right now, tools that are at various times are being used throughout the course of the year.”

Decreased demand for holiday work not felt by everyone

Some employers are bound to feel the burden on the holiday crunch more than others, despite efforts to prepare. One of those is Springfield-based kitchen supply store Everything Kitchens. 

“We absolutely are reliant on hiring people for seasonal [jobs] just because our business is so dynamic,” Fran Ritchey, their human resources coordinator, said.

Despite only doing online sales since closing their Brentwood Shopping Center storefront during the Covid-19 pandemic, Everything Kitchens still sought to hire 60 to 80 seasonal workers this year, according to Ritchey.

“We’re in online retail, and that’s a 24/7 industry,” she said. “So we constantly have orders coming in, and as you can imagine, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday are all incredibly busy days for us. And it will continue to be busy for us up until I’d say about December 19th or 20th.”

However, they haven’t been able to hit their mark. According to Ritchey, from early October until now, they’ve hired somewhere in the “neighborhood of 40” people for seasonal work, and they just completed their “strongest” Black Friday in their 20 years of being in business.

This isn’t anything new for them, though, as they have struggled with worker shortages that have plagued the economy over the last couple of years.

“It’s been increasingly difficult,” Ritchey said. “In the past, we always really stuck with just Indeed, and that seemed to have worked for us pretty well, but now I’m starting to get more creative.”

Creative routes Ritchey has taken to find potential employees include speaking at local colleges, sharing job openings on various social media groups and working with temporary staffing agencies.

Battlefield Mall holiday decor near the intersection of Battlefield Road and Glenstone Avenue. (Photo by Jack McGee)

Additionally, they have implemented policies that could incentivize seasonal job seekers to apply at Everything Kitchens, including higher pay for working on Saturdays and Sundays and offering benefits after 60 days, rather than their normal 90-day timeline.

“That actually has seemed to have helped quite a bit,” she said.

Morrow has seen other employers take similar approaches in order to encourage people to apply for seasonal jobs.

“Employers are getting creative year round,” Morrow said. “What we’re seeing is incentive pay, maybe doing some work that specifically does outreach to emphasize some additional benefits that they can offer around the holidays for people who are willing to take on that additional work.”

Despite Ritchey’s successes in finding new ways to reach potential job applicants, employees at Everything Kitchens are finding themselves covering more ground in order to keep up with the holiday push.

“The big negative effect is that it’s affecting our employees,” Ritchey said. “They’re having to work long hours, a lot more over time. Sometimes they like over time, but there just comes a point where it’s too much, and as a leadership team, we’re very cognizant. We want to be sure that our employees aren’t getting burnt out, that we’re not risking their health, and we also want them to be able to spend time with their families during the holiday too.”

Morrow advised shoppers to make sure and treat employees well, as many seasonal workers are likely working long hours to meet at a very high pace of business.

Job vacancies felt at different levels by many others

Even if the national trends in seasonal employment are true in Springfield, there are plenty of temporary jobs to be had. Simply by looking up “Seasonal” in the “What” category, “Springfield, MO” in the “Where” category and setting a “within 15 miles” filter on Indeed, several pages of seasonal jobs are shown.

Included, but not limited to, are:

  • Warehouse jobs at Bass Pro Shops, Target, and Everything Kitchens
  • Gift wrapper at Macadoodles
  • Retail sales associate at Bath and Body Works, Aldi, Macy’s and many others
  • Photography jobs for Shutterfly, Onin, and Cherry Hill Programs
The holiday season at Bass Pro on Dec. 12, 2022. (Photo by Shannon Cay)

Resources available for employers struggling to find help

The Department of Workforce Development, which is housed at the Missouri Jobs Center, will work with employers to get the word out about open positions, whether through online flyers, helping them host hiring events, or simply making job seekers that come to the Jobs Center aware of the opportunities. 

While the Chamber of Commerce puts a lot of emphasis on their “long play” tools available to help employers build out a talent pipeline, Morrow still has advice on how to potentially accelerate filling seasonal positions.

“When it comes to working to get quick hires in the seasonal environment, we’ve really focused some of our attention in the last year or two on helping employers identify how they may modify some of their particularly online listings to cast a little bit wider net,” Morrow said.

Morrow advised employers who repost the same seasonal job listings they’ve used in the past and see if there are any changes that can be made that could possibly increase the number of applicants. 

“There’s probably some wisdom and taking a look at [job listings] and seeing if there are any qualifications in there that may not be as important as they used to be for the employer and could potentially, without meaning to, eliminate some people from your pool,” he said.

However, Morrow cautiously suggested that the struggles felt by businesses trying to fill vacant positions may be slowly resolving. 

“We have heard anecdotally that it’s getting a little bit better,” Morrow said. “It’s getting a little bit easier, but I don’t want to overstate that. It’s still extremely difficult to find talent if you have an open position.”

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the business and economic development reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. He previously covered politics and elections for the Citizen. Before that, he worked at documentary film company Carbon Trace Productions and Missouri State University’s student-led newspaper, The Standard. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at jmcgee@sgfcitizen.org or (417) 719-5129. More by Jack McGee