Seasonal workers staying on longer to give extra help

While seasonal workers are usually not needed after December, this year more will be staying on to help with an influx of gift returns that would typically be handled by regular employees.

Although the “help wanted for the holidays” signs may have left Lawrence store windows, seasonal workers remain at some area businesses.

Kate Turner, co-owner of Express Employment Professionals, said her company placed more workers in seasonal jobs in 2011 than 2010. Many of them worked at distribution centers for large retailers, and some will stay on a little longer to help with the influx of returned gifts that usually come after Christmas.

Overall, Turner’s company saw an uptick of between 20 and 25 percent in job placements over the last quarter compared with 2010.

“There were some pretty big companies in the area that did need seasonal staffing,” Turner said.

In past years, those companies would have had enough full-time employees to handle the post-holiday gift returns, but layoffs have left them without the manpower to do so.

Eric Dungans holds a different type of seasonal job. His work at Kansas University’s Allen Fieldhouse centers on basketball season, not the holiday season. Dungans has worked there since October doing maintenance.

“It’s been good for me,” said Dungans, who has been seeking permanent employment since moving to Lawrence several months ago.

His current position, which he got through Express Employment, is expected to end in March.

Nationally, customer service and retail positions were the jobs most in demand during the holidays, but they weren’t the only ones being offered. Customer service and retail jobs made up about 30 percent of seasonal jobs, according to a, and the other 70 percent of jobs were in areas such as clerical work, shipping and technology.

Shirley Martin-Smith, owner of the local staffing franchise Adecco, said there has been a shift in the way companies structure their workforces. In the old days, a company might call her and request five employees for the next day. Now they plan ahead, calling to reserve employees weeks or months in advance.

Martin-Smith thinks it is partially a function of the recession, in which layoffs have forced companies to operate with less people and invest in new technologies that help them to do that. This allows them to better predict when they will need extra help, beyond obvious times such as the holidays.

“Our mission is to fill a company’s need when they have a peak in their workload,” Martin-Smith said. “Now they can look ahead to see what kind of resources or personnel they might need to help them go through a peak.”

Dungans has also noticed employers are planning further ahead with their temporary job offerings. His contacts at Express Employment have been good about having jobs lined up for him.

Dungans hopes his basketball season job will lead to full-time employment at KU or elsewhere, but if that doesn’t happen he thinks he will have another temporary job lined up before the end of basketball season.