The ups and downs of holiday employment
Santa Claus might be the ultimate seasonal employee, but he was unavailable for comment. The spokeswoman for a vendor of “turnkey Santa experiences,” however, was happy to talk.
Noerr Programs, headquartered in Arvada, supplies the cast for shopping mall Santa Lands from Puerto Rico to Hawaii, including one currently underway at Mesa Mall, spokeswoman Ruth Rosenquist said.
Noerr will hire about 300 Santas this year along with a supporting cast of nearly 3,000 greeters, helpers and photographers, Rosenquist said.
Noerr pays better than minimum wage, better still for Santas with natural beards and plenty of experience, but the job offers no benefits package, she said.
“They’ve got to have the right heart for this,” she said. “It’s more about what’s inside. They’ve obviously got to have a love for children, a love for the holidays and a great deal of patience and stamina. It’s a taxing job, even though they’re sitting down most of the time.”
Noerr has little difficulty finding people willing to work the holidays. Rotund, white-bearded storytellers with a love for the season usually line up for a spot at Noerr’s Santa University in July, Rosenquist said.
Some of the prospective Kris Kringles may be focused on earning extra cash by working the 40 days before Christmas, but most are on a mission to spread joy, not get rich, she said.
As for the craven few, creating a magical moment for saucer-eyed toddlers might be a priceless experience, but it’s no substitute for a 401(k).
Low pay and no benefits may be the biggest downside to seasonal employment, but there are upsides.
THE UPSIDES TO SEASONAL WORK
“With our current economic picture, there’s a lot of people out there who just want a job,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center.
That includes Vicki Macklberg of Grand Junction. An Art Institute of Colorado graduate with a desire to open a fine arts photography studio, Macklberg has been making ends meet with seasonal jobs ever since she left school in 2012.
She worked at Elitch Gardens in Denver during the summer and at a school calendar publisher during the fall. The winter season finds her clerking at a local shopping mall.
“It’s the only kind of a job I’ve been able to find,” she said.
Beyond a temporary paycheck, seasonal jobs help fill gaps in time on a resume, which can make the difference between getting hired or not, Miller said.
“Employers find people who are currently employed more attractive to hire than somebody who’s been out of work for a long period of time,” she said. “There’s a lot of workplace skills that would need to be brushed up on to be successful in that new position. There’s a question whether they can physically work for 40 hours if they’ve been off for a significant period of time.”
Another positive of seasonal work is the potential for a flexible schedule and an upgrade to permanent status.
Pinque Boutique at Mesa Mall, for example, is hiring up to five temporary clerks to work expanded holiday hours and is willing to work around the schedules of the people they hire.
“We’re looking for someone who is honest, dependable, and actually likes retail. They should be outgoing and have some kind of people skills,” said Connie Martin, Pinque Boutique manager.
Good references will also be important for those seeking to work in the shop, Martin said.
Although most of her temporary workers will end their term of employment sometime in January, two of the five who distinguish themselves could get to stay on permanently, she said.
PROSPECTS LOOK GOOD
Prospects for seasonal employment look positive this year. Though some employers have already hired the temporary workers they need for the season, many are interviewing now, Miller said.
September, October and November traditionally show the greatest increase in monthly employment figures for Mesa County, she said.
At Mesa Mall, for example, many retailers are hiring to compensate for the shortened Christmas shopping season caused by a late November Thanksgiving, said Chelsi Reimer, mall spokeswoman.
“Since the holiday is condensed – we basically lost a week – the hours the mall will be open are longer than they were last year,” Reimer said. “We’ll be opening earlier and we’ll be staying open a little bit later to accommodate shoppers who have fewer weeks to shop and may find they need to do a little more last minute, earlier in the day or later in the day.”
Retailers must hire workers who will be dedicated to operating the fitting rooms, greeting people, staffing registers, or sizing and fitting customers, but also to cover the longer workday, she said.
“Our retailers are needing to hire more people to cover those additional hours as well as to make sure they have good customer service,” Reimer said.
Customer service is key at Powderhorn Mountain Resort, which is still looking to hire close to 50 new employees, said Sam Williams, general manager.
Cooks, cashiers, lift operators, ticket checkers, tubing hill and bungee trampoline operators, ski instructors and clerks for the resort’s retail and rental shops are all positions still waiting to be filled, Williams said.
Powderhorn employees need to be “very engaging with our customers and be able to offer great customer service to everyone who comes here — day in and day out. Our goal is to give people not just a great skiing experience, but a great overall experience,” he said.
At the height of the ski season, up to 300 people will be working at the resort, Williams said.
In 2012, the resort hired nearly 60 new people. Fewer are needed this year because more of those who worked last year are returning for another season.
“People see we’re making improvements and headed in the right direction,” Williams said. “We’re doing things to motivate our employees and keep the morale up, like giving them better benefits. I think they see we’re moving in the right direction and they want to be a part of it.”