Retail and warehousing gear up for holiday hiring surge amid automation talk

Brick-and-mortar and online retail stores alike are planning to increase their workforces this holiday season. There is likely to be an especially large increase in packaging, warehousing and logistics jobs to support expanding e-commerce sales.

Holiday season shopping will be especially vital for big-name department stores, many of which have seen profits slide in recent years in the wake of Amazon's dominating retail presence. Analysts predict that Macy's, for example, will likely see 73 percent of its profits for the entire year generated in the holiday quarter, according to The Motley Fool. To meet that need, the company plans to hire 80,000 seasonal workers and an additional 18,000 employees to support its online sales.

J.C. Penney, a chain also facing sliding sales, intends to hire 40,000 seasonal workers. The company has closed 138 stores since the holiday season of 2016 and has seen about 42 percent of its shares sold short, The Motley Fool detailed.

Warehousing roles on rise
During this holiday season and beyond, expect to see a surge in hiring for warehousing and logistics roles, as retailers ramp up their e-commerce offerings and seek to outdo each other in delivery speed, shipping costs, affordability and coverage.

E-commerce sales make up about one-tenth of retail spending in the U.S., according to The Economist, but that figure's likely to rise. Projections from Citi showed more than 2 billion square feet of new warehousing space will be needed worldwide over the next 20 years, to support online sales.

"General warehousing and storage" and "Electronic shopping and mail-order houses," two industries often considered to be indicators of job growth related to e-commerce order fulfillment, employ 1.2 million people, according to the Brookings Institute. Between 2010 and 2016, the added 372,000 jobs. These gains marked a 48 percent increase in employment, compared to 12 percent growth for private industries overall.

Many retailers have been beefing up their online operations in the wake of Amazon's continuing dominance in the sector. Amazon recently became the second-largest U.S. company by headcount, Inc. magazine reported. Between the end of June to the end of September of this year, its workforce increased a staggering 77 percent, bringing total employment to 541,900, compared to 382,400 last quarter.

Amazon plans to bring on an additional 120,000 seasonal workers to support its warehouse and customer service operations, according to the source. This year alone, the company has increased its warehouse space by 30 percent.

Automation in the future?
The seasonal and warehousing hiring gains come as some major retailers contemplate future moves toward automating aspects of their workforces.

Walmart recently announced that it will introduce robots into more than 50 of its U.S. stores, Reuters reported. The robots will help support inventory management by scanning aisles for missing stock or incorrect labels and then relaying the information to human employees.

"If you are running up and down the aisle and you want to decide if we are out of Cheerios or not, a human doesn't do that job very well, and they don't like it," said Jeremy King, chief technology officer for Walmart U.S. and e-commerce, in an interview with Reuters.

Walmart noted that the robots would not change employee counts in their stores or replace human workers, according to the source.

Brick-and-mortar and online retail stores alike are planning to increase their workforces this holiday season.