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Region to Add Thousands Of Seasonal Employees

New Hires Train to Handle Customer Crush

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 26, 2004; Page E01

Holiday music clashed with the sound of nine cash registers in a back room at the Westfield Shoppingtown Montgomery Hecht's on Tuesday night. It was training day No. 2 for the holiday hires, who were busy learning how to punch transactions into the machines so they could work through the busy season, earning extra cash and a cherished store discount.

Phillip Guzman signed on last week to supplement his full-time work as an equipment manager at Goddard Space Flight Center. The father of two said he could use the extra money and the discount for the holidays. His sister already knows about his part-time job and is probably expecting gifts from Hecht's this year, he said.

Denise Shea, center, answers Nate Kane's question about using the cash register during a training class at Hecht's. (Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)

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"It seems like fun. There's a lot of activity," he said. He asked to work in a busy section, and he got his wish: He'll put in about 20 hours a week in the children's department.

Companies spend months before the holidays collecting and digging through applications to find additional people to deliver packages, ring up purchases and stock decorations.

Sometimes, the jobs can lead to permanent positions. But for many seasonal workers, the job simply means income and nice discounts at a time of year when many people want the extra cash.

At the Hecht's in Westfield Shoppingtown Montgomery, recruiters handed out applications to passersby at the store's entrance. The store will continue to hire through the second week of December, late into the traditional holiday shopping season, according to Richard LeCours, store manager. "It's amazing the amount of business we do on the 26th," he said.

In the past decade, the Washington region has had an average of 26,000 more jobs during November and December than in September and October, with 15,000 of those jobs in the retail sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Nationally, an average 506,000 jobs are added in November and December, with 550,000 in the retail sector.

Companies like United Parcel Service Inc. have a long tradition of holiday hiring, which includes training workers to be drivers' helpers. Seasonal UPS employees work through the busiest parts of the winter, getting signatures from recipients and dropping off and picking up packages.

In the D.C. area this year, UPS added 1,600 seasonal hires, who earn $10.50 an hour, to its staff of 5,400. On its peak day, Dec. 21, UPS expects to handle 623,000 packages in D.C., 50 percent more than on an average day. Overall, the company hires 70,000 seasonal workers to supplement its 357,000 employees.

The job ends Dec. 24, but many of the helpers return as year-round UPS employees in January, according to Conrad Samuels, the human resources supervisor.

"They have a foot in the door because they have come and proven they can do the work during the most challenging time of the year," Samuels said. "If they come back in a totally different job, they know the foundation of the company."

Stocking up on employees during the busy season not only gets help when it is needed, but vets employees for jobs after the holidays.

LeCours said about half the seasonal workers turn into year-round employees.

Seasonal work is "a great kind of on-the-job screening for companies that can take the very best people and turn them into full-time employees," said John A. Challenger, head of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., an outplacement firm in Chicago. "But a lot of people want to work during the holiday just to get access to discounts and get money coming in."

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