What happens in retail reflects the broader economy. The sector accounts for more than one in 10 U.S. jobs; only health care employs more. Retail stores generate billions of dollars in rent for commercial landlords, ad sales for local media outlets, and sales-tax receipts for state and local governments. While tens of millions remain out of work, and the unemployment rate, which fell to 13.3 percent from 14.7 percent in April, remains higher than in any previous post war recession, the job market unexpectedly reversed its free fall in May as employers brought back millions of workers after pandemic-induced layoffs and the unemployment rate declined.
Employers added 2.5 million jobs in May, the Labor Department said in its June 5 report, going against expectations of further losses and offering hope that the rebound from the pandemic-induced economic crisis could be faster than economists are forecasting. Most notably, the report notes that “rose sharply in leisure and hospitality, construction, education and health services, and retail.”
For retail employers, this means that the industry as a whole is responding to demand as states reopen, safety precautions are normalized, and customers begin to return to shop at pre-pandemic levels. As a result, the retail industry - while accustomed to seasonal hiring volume ahead of summer months - may have to work even harder to fill open positions.
What Retailers Can Do To Reach Qualified Candidates
Even as the market as a whole is suffering from high unemployment, candidates have a lot of options. But as they return to scale, retail employers who may have furloughed or laid off workers are struggling to cast a net and reach qualified workers to replace those who moved on or have postponed job searches. Because retailers are facing both seasonal and rebound hiring needs, and recruiting teams have gotten smaller, focusing on how to do more with less in hiring efforts is key.
Take notes on what large, national retailers are doing, especially to recruit essential workers. While larger retailers have more resources for recruiting and advertising at their disposal, what they have all done is learned how to pivot like startups. With smaller teams and limited resources, a startup mentality can help support recruiting efforts for retail.
1) Technology adoption allows retailers to offer online application processes, video interviewing, and online onboarding that enable fast, effective hiring. Virtual recruiting has allowed retailers to quickly adapt and move in-person processes, like pre-employment testing and assessment, online.
2) Reduce time-to-hire. For any industry accustomed to scaling hiring efforts for seasonal high-volume like retail, time-to-hire is the number one metric to focus on and automation technology can help us close that gap.
3) Is it scalable? Retail recruiters have had to shift to channels and strategies that can scale, such as video interviewing, virtual onboarding and training, as well as candidate outreach using talent segmentation and targeting. When testing a new process, the first question to ask is “can we scale this?” If it isn’t scalable, it won’t help high-volume hiring.
Related article: How to conduct video interviews at scale.
4) Safety precautions are the new normal. This isn’t just the case for retail customers; in order to attract qualified talent, retailers must be able to shift employer brand focus from sales to safety. How can your company place an emphasis on the health and safety of candidates? How do you ensure many former in-person candidate touchpoints are no contact (i.e. video interviews, online tests)?
5) Targeted advertising. For retailers that need to hire quickly, outreach needs to be swift yet targeted. Large retailers had digital recruiting systems in place and responsive recruiting teams that could scale their efforts using online advertising to promote jobs and target qualified candidates. While we don’t all have large-scale tools at our disposal, retailers of any size can use targeted online networks that reach candidates at scale. Consider candidates with “lookalike” skills and experience, or those that can translate easily to a retail environment from another industry.
Timing is key for Hiring at Your Retail Stores Post-COVID
Finally, know that while candidates are out there, they may not be as easy to find. Unemployment numbers are high, but in some minimum wage industries, some that are receiving benefits are making more money through unemployment insurance than they were as an hourly employee. As it stands now, financial assistance for unemployment benefits under the CARES Act (allowing for an additional $600 a week on top of state unemployment benefits) ends in July. If this isn’t extended, timing could be everything for your retail hiring efforts.