business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times reports this morning that while US unemployment has reached 8.5 percent, a 25-year high, and more than three million jobs have been lost in the last six months, there is actually some good news on the employment front: “While 4.8 million workers were laid off or chose to leave their jobs in February, employers across the country hired 4.3 million workers that month.”

Reuters reports this morning, by the way, that “planned layoffs at U.S. firms fell for a third consecutive month in April, hitting their lowest since last October and providing yet another sign that the world's largest economy may be bottoming out.”

Who is hiring? The Times writes that the list includes “hospitals, colleges, discount stores, restaurants and municipal public works departments. IBM is hiring more than 700 people for its new technical services center in Dubuque, Iowa, while the Cleveland Clinic has 500 job openings, not just for nurses but also for pharmacy aides and physical therapists. And after President Obama’s stimulus package kicks into gear, state, local governments and road-building contractors are expected to hire more.”

The retail sector is cited as one place where hiring is happening…both at small and big retailers:

“’It’s easier to hire in a recession — we have about five applications for every position,’ said Howard Glickberg, principal owner of Fairway Market, the well-known grocery company based in Manhattan.

“Fairway just hired 350 people for its month-old store in Paramus, N.J., the first Fairway outside of New York State. The company plans to add 1,200 more workers over the next two years by opening stores in Queens; Pelham Manor, N.Y.; and Stamford, Conn.

“’What you have to be afraid of is hiring someone who can’t find something better at the time, and when they find something better they leave you,’ Mr. Glickberg said. ‘I want to hire someone who will make a career of it.’

“The nation’s largest private-sector employer, Walmart, is also hiring aplenty. Walmart, with 1.4 million workers nationwide, hires several hundred thousand workers each year because of employee turnover, and expects to increase its domestic work force by nearly 50,000 this year, thanks to plans to open 150 new stores.”

KC's View:
Glickberg’s point is a good one – that a recession actually can be an opportunity to be choosier about the people you hire, and perhaps even find people who will turn a job into a career. But I would offer a cautionary note here: Retailers need to deliver on the promise by being in career-building and career-nurturing mode, investing in their employees and providing opportunities for personal and professional growth. If you don't do that, employees are going to leave for other jobs as soon as other opportunities present themselves.

I should note that the folks at Fairway seem exceptionally skilled at this…even at store level, they seem to be hiring an engaged and dedicated group of people that give the chain a differentiated advantage.