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More skilled workers applying for holiday jobs, firms say

Before he lost his job, Dedrick Rems was making $28 an hour as a technician for Raytheon Co., repairing tank and airplane turrets at the military contractor’s El Segundo facility. He had been with the company his entire working life, beginning as a clerk at age 18 and ending when he was laid off in October 2009.

The week before Christmas, Rems was making $8.50 an hour to deliver packages in the pouring rain as a seasonal helper with UPS. But the 50-year-old Compton native wasn’t complaining. At least he was working — for a little while.

“There’s more people than jobs, so if you don’t want it, somebody else will,” he said.

Employers, recruiters and job placement service providers say that with the unemployment rate remaining high — 9.8% nationwide and 12.4% in California as of November — an increasing number of skilled or white-collar workers are applying for holiday jobs, whether delivering packages or working in stores.

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“The type of candidate that we’re seeing coming in for both temporary jobs and retail jobs is certainly a higher caliber,” said Jodi Chavez, West Coast senior vice president with Ajilon Professional Staffing.

And this year, as retailers and others stepped up holiday hiring in anticipation of a robust Christmas shopping season, there were more jobs to be found.

Rems was one of about 50,000 seasonal workers hired by UPS nationwide for this year’s holiday season. Like many of them, he was hoping that the temporary position would lead to a permanent gig, and eventually to a management job or one of the coveted delivery driver positions, which pay up to $30 an hour.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics hasn’t studied the composition of the temporary labor force since the downturn. But Brian Castillo, a human resources supervisor at one of Los Angeles’ UPS locations, said he has seen former college professors, sales executives and graphic designers joining the ranks of college students and unemployed lower-skilled workers applying for holiday jobs over the last couple of years.

“There wasn’t a lot of opportunity out there at this time, so they were really seeking to get employment, period,” Castillo said.

The changing face of seasonal workers may have to do with the swelling ranks of the long-term unemployed — people who have been out of work for more than six months — who now account for more than 40% of all unemployed workers, said John Challenger, chief executive of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“A lot of people who might not take seasonal jobs are this time, if not just to keep sane, to get some extra cash,” Challenger said.

For some of those workers, unemployment benefits have run out. For others, a holiday job is a way to get out of the house. Rems, for instance, is still drawing unemployment, but said he got stir-crazy without a regular schedule.

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“I was kind of sitting around. I’m used to working all my life,” he said.

While many, like Rems, are hoping the holiday jobs will become long term — in his case, the seasonal job ended Christmas Eve and he will have to reapply for a permanent position in the new year — others picked up seasonal jobs with no intention of staying.

Ben Lippman, 26, of Sherman Oaks was laid off in April from his job with a small independent record label, where he worked in artist development and scouted new talent. Since then, Lippman said, he had had some interviews, but nothing panned out.

Although he was able to live on unemployment, he took a holiday job at a store that sells outdoor apparel and equipment “to feel somewhat productive,” said Lippman, who asked that the companies he worked for not be named.

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Trent Overholt, owner of Overholt & Associates, the Los Angeles franchise of Management Recruiters International Inc., said it made sense that out-of-work professionals would turn to holiday work as a stopgap. That’s because the Christmas season coincides with a dead period in hiring for professional positions in November and December.

“It’s perfectly complementary to the business cycle for a white-collar, career-oriented person,” he said.

But Lippman found folding clothes eight hours a day frustrating after the responsibility and creative freedom he had at his old job.

He quit the holiday job the Monday before Christmas and is now whipping his resume into shape and preparing to launch back into the job search in the new year.

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“I feel supremely confident that something is going to work out,” Lippman said. “I have to have that mentality.”

abby.sewell@latimes.com


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