Holiday job on many wish lists
But competition is stiff even for temporary, minimum-wage posts
Four years after getting laid off as a security worker at Filene’s Basement in Downtown Crossing, Alem Gebrecherkus sought out his former employer at a recent job fair, hoping to get a part-time position, seasonal gig, or any hours.
Gebrecherkus, who worked as a doctor in his native Cuba and just completed classes to become a medical assistant here, was optimistic that his improved resume would help end years of unemployment.
But the Filene’s Basement application he filled out last month was met with the same silence he received from dozens of other businesses across the region. And as it turns out, even if Gebrecherkus had been hired, the paychecks wouldn’t have come for long - the entire Filene’s Basement chain is closing by January as part of bankruptcy proceedings. “I am frustrated. But I cannot change this economy,’’ Gebrecherkus said. “I have to change myself.’’
Although holiday hiring at retailers may edge up slightly this year, analysts say, many job seekers are still facing a strikingly competitive field for temporary positions, some paying little more than minimum wage. In October, merchants hired 6.4 percent fewer employees compared with the previous month, and the number of applications received rose 2.7 percent over the same period, according to the Kronos Retail Labor index, which measures labor supply and demand in the retail sector.
More than 400 people, including Gebrecherkus, recently crammed into the Boston Career Link in Roxbury for a retail job fair where merchants supposedly had 150 positions to fill. Long lines and piles of resumes quickly filled the room.
By the end of the night, Heidi Kiewel, a store manager for clothier Ashley Stewart, had collected more than 100 applications for about 10 holiday season openings. She is still sorting through the resumes, amazed at the caliber of candidates seeking hourly retail jobs.
But Kiewel knows from experience the downward turns careers can take in a turbulent economy. A year ago, she gave up a job as a buyer at a troubled hardware chain to run a Copley Place boutique. The shop soon went under, putting Kiewel back on the employment hunt, which ended when she landed the manager’s position in Dudley Square.
“People are super qualified for everything,’’ Kiewel said. “It’s a difficult world.’’
Last holiday season, Kristina Lauro abandoned her yearlong search for a medical assistant job and opted for a temporary cashier position at the Target store in Stoughton. When January arrived and Lauro still didn’t have an offer in the medical field, she decided to stay and work in the discounter’s cafe. The move was hardly unusual. Across the company, 40 percent of Target’s 2010 seasonal staff became year-round employees - nearly double the previous year.
“It’s tough looking for a job. For the medical field, people want two to five years of experience. I only have one,’’ said Lauro, 21. “I don’t mind it at all working at Target. But I do have the medical profession in the future.’’
Retailers have reported an uptick in applicants for seasonal positions, especially from people with experience in other professional fields, according to industry analysts. Some candidates are facing the end of unemployment benefits, while others are simply adjusting career expectations after repeated rejections.
“For those who have been unemployed, they realize some income is better than nothing and if they land a seasonal job they enjoy they are often willing to continue,’’ said Lynne Sarikas, executive director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University. “For employers it is a huge bonus,’’ Sarikas said. “The seasonal work is an extended interview so the employer gets to know the employee and the work they are capable of doing.’’
Nancy Santos of Boston said she has tried to keep a positive attitude since she was laid off a year ago from her job as an executive assistant to a vice president at American Express. She has sent out more than 100 resumes and dropped off applications at job fairs with every retailer, including Nordstrom, Filene’s Basement, T.J. Maxx, and CVS.
Initially, Santos hoped to land an administrative or managerial position. But now, with one extension left on her unemployment benefits, her search has widened considerably. “There are so many people looking for one job,’’ Santos said. “I’m willing to take anything at this point.’’