Warehouse employment is up 3.8% since the coronavirus lockdowns began in mid-March, one of the few bright spots in an economy that has seen an overall dip of 7% in payrolls during that period, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There are 11 million fewer jobs than in February 2020, but 46,000 more have been hired in the warehousing and storage sector, one of the few showing a gain, BLS data shows.
The jump in warehouse employment is of course is driven by the large increase in online spending as many consumers continue to avoid physical stores, leading to surges in output at distribution and fulfillment centers across the country. Domestic ecommerce sales were up 44.6% in the second quarter, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
At the same time, Amazon announced an additional 100,000 hires to meet extreme seasonal demand, twice as much as in 2019 but the same as in 2018. The company plans to open 1,000 new fulfillment and distribution centers in 2020, according to Bloomberg.
Walmart plans to hire 20,000 ecommerce fulfillment workers this season, while Target said it plans to hire the same as in 2019, about 13,000.
On the carrier side, UPS is planning to add 100,000 seasonal workers while FedEx said it is adding 75,000.
The capacity squeeze in ecommerce shipping means rates have risen about 20% vs. last year, Bloomberg reported.
Richard Wahlquist, president and CEO of the American Staffing Association, said sourcing talent to fill ecommerce and retail supply chain openings is a significant challenge and will likely remain so in the weeks and months ahead as the nation continues to battle COVID-19.
“This challenge is consistent across geographies and across occupations,” Wahlquist said. “The paradox of millions of Americans out of work, voluntarily or otherwise, despite millions of job openings is the current reality of our new normal.”
Walhwquist said this is the case even though employers are offering incentives like pay increases of up to 20%, as well as signing and referral bonuses.
“However, many are finding that this is still not enough to overcome the concerns and objections of sidelined workers,” he said. “Beyond increasing wages, employers in this sector are digging deep into their tool kits to entice people to return to work. However, to date for many these efforts are still not producing enough workers to meet market demand.”
Will Eadie, Chief Revenue Officer at WorkJam, providers of a platform for managing frontline workers, said employers need to offer perks that keep employees safe and curb symptoms of burnout such as flexible scheduling, earned wage access, access to self-service tools and transparent health precautions.
“We see staffing looking more lean and flexible,” Eadie said. “Businesses are still looking for how to maximize productivity of their staff with fewer people, and onboard new hires quickly. They’re beginning to rely on technology for scheduling and task management as a way to scale up or down based on demand.”