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Retailers: Consider an alternate hiring model this holiday season

October 14, 2021
iCIMS Staff
7 min read

What are this season’s hiring challenges for retailers? 

As retailers begin to gear up for the all-important holiday shopping season, the shortage of available and interested workers could feel like an early lump of coal in their hiring stocking.  

With so many skilled and task-based roles to fill, traditional hiring models could end up bogging down hiring teams in a mire of unnecessary legwork. Using conventional hiring practices could mean that talent acquisition pros will spend as much time filling an open position on their tech team as they do for a role restocking shelves.  

As this holiday season’s hiring challenges are just another in a long line of unprecedented events retailers have had to contend with since March 2020, we’d like to suggest considering a more unconventional approach for making hiring more cost-effective and efficient for employers: open hiring. 

The challenges of working retail

iCIMS’ August hiring report highlighted challenges that may lie ahead for retailers who face a widening gap between job openings (which are up 90% this year through July 2021) and job applications (which are down 16% over that same period).  

To further complicate matters for retailers, the report (recently highlighted by NBC News) also showed a 44% decline in applications per opening since the start of the year, compared to a 19% decline across other industries. The report found that it now takes 40 days to fill a retail position, a 21% increase from April this year. 

It seems not even sign-on bonuses, the promise of free college tuition, or record-high wages are luring workers to jump into retail positions this holiday season. “Consumer demand is very elevated, so retailers need more staff than ever to cope with things like fulfillment and serving customers in-store,” Neil Saunders, a retail analyst with GlobalData, told NBC News. “However, at the same time, people are more reluctant to work in retail because of concerns about the virus and the stressfulness of the work, so it is harder than ever to find enough workers.” 

The Washington Post recently reported on an exodus of workers from retail jobs complaining of stressful conditions that had been exacerbated by the pandemic, such as longer hours, understaffed stores, and challenging customers. “It was a really dismal time, and it made me realize this isn’t worth it,” one worker told the Post. “My life isn’t worth a dead-end job.” 

Retailers continue to employ artificial intelligence to streamline the application process and traditional recruitment marketing practices such as social media posts to promote job openings. But there might be a more efficient way to hire workers for jobs that aren’t heavily skills-based to devote more time to filling roles that require greater expertise. 

Rethink the very definition of a workforce with open hiring

According to Forbes, open hiring is “the practice of hiring anyone who applies for a job, no questions asked.” 

The Yonkers-based Greyston Bakery – purveyor of sweet, yummy treats for the likes of Ben & Jerry’s and Whole Foods – is credited with pioneering open hiring when it opened its doors in the early 1980s. Since then, it’s become the company’s primary model for hiring and is as simple as people putting their names down on a list and waiting for a call as roles become available.  

Joseph Kenner, Greyston’s CEO and President, told Forbes, “We want to educate as many people as we possibly can on the possibility of open hiring. So sometimes, if a business is really on the skeptical end of the spectrum, we tell them to open up just one job to open hiring. It doesn’t have to be a whole department. It is very low risk. It can be a front desk person or whatever you think works for your organization.” 

He added, “The skills are manual, and you can learn them on the job. All you have to do is be willing to work and show up. It’s a great way to teach people a trade or a skill.” 

The Body Shop, the British cosmetics, skincare, and perfume company, is also an adopter of open hiring here in the U.S. When the retailer first piloted the program at a distribution center in North Carolina, there was almost a two-thirds reduction in their turnover rate, and productivity went up 13%. The program was so successful that now it’s used for both the manufacturing and retail sides of the business. The retailer, which hired 733 seasonal employees through its two successful pilot programs, simply asks three interview questions (including “Can you stand for eight hours?” and “Can you lift over 50 pounds?”).  

According to a news article out of Rochester, NY, six local companies were testing the hiring model out this summer, including a frozen food packaging plant and a commercial leasing business. “We feel that will get us a large number of our community members access to employment that is typically screened out of positions,” one employer told the paper. 

Benefits of open hiring

Beyond being good for business, open hiring can also help mitigate bias in the talent acquisition process. “Greyston was founded in 1982, and there were so many people who were unemployed and on the streets, looking for work at that time, and [its founder] saw that as being an injustice, particularly since a lot of those people wanted to work but couldn’t,” Kenner told Forbes. By eliminating so many traditional job hiring processes – drug screenings, background checks, and previous experience requirements – more workers have access to the “economic mainstream.” 

The Body Shop has adopted targeted recruiting as part of its open hiring strategy by partnering with nonprofit organizations to create employment channels for candidates who have been shut out of many work opportunities due to barriers such as homelessness, incarceration, and lack of education. 

Here are some other benefits of open hiring:

  • Bigger candidate pool to choose from
  • Speeds recruiting process
  • Reduces turnover
  • Provides opportunities to those who have faced employment barriers

Nontraditional hiring needs innovative tech 

Holiday retail hiring may be a time-honored tradition, but retailers’ challenges this year require an innovative approach. 

Adopting an unorthodox policy to hire unskilled workers at scale requires technology that thinks outside the usual hiring box. The traditional HR tools of yesterday were built as rigid tools for administration (and there’s nothing rigid and traditional about hiring anyone who applies). A modern and powerful applicant tracking system (ATS) can adapt to retailers’ specific needs to carry out an open hiring strategy.  

Here are a few key features of the ATS used by 7-Eleven, Rite Aid, and Tractor Supply Co.: 

  • Mobile hiring manager app: Many retailers are decentralized, and the task of hiring falls to hiring managers who are on the go. They need tools that meet them on the shop floor and let them review resumes, reject or accept candidates, approve offers, and more from their phones. 
  • Configure workflows based on job role, type, and location: Retailers are hiring for different positions or locations, often all at once. Set up in advance, iCIMS’ configurable workflows can help move candidates through the pipeline faster with less effort from the hiring team. 
  • Job postings: Expand your reach – at scale – by posting to leading job board sites and social networks, and get search-optimized job posts.
  • Fast, mobile-friendly applications: Candidates can apply faster through social sites, text apply, digital assistants, and mobile-optimized sites.
  • CRM integration: Keep past employees and seasonal workers engaged throughout the year so you can move them through the hiring workflow when seasonal roles become available.  

As the gap between job openings and job applications continues to widen, adopting open hiring for less technical or forward-facing roles might help retailers prepare for the spike in holiday season shopping.  

Considering an open hiring plan for hiring this holiday season? Learn more about iCIMS ATS, an innovative solution that’s built to hire talent fast. 

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