As tinsel and trees decorate shopping centres around Australia, the competition is heating up to hire seasonal staff for the Christmas rush. So far, we’ve seen large retailers trying to beat the hiring frenzy, ahead of time, including Australia Post who started its recruitment drive two months early, hoping to secure 6,000 workers before Christmas.

Amazon is trying to hire 2,000 people ahead of Black Friday sales, and Dan Murphy’s has been carrying out on-the-spot interviews to recruit 2,200 staff to cope with seasonal demand. Retail businesses are also having to compete with the hospitality industry, with bars, pubs and clubs also needing another 200,000 people this holiday season.

Along with ongoing retail worker shortages, another COVID-19 wave is expected to hit Australia around December, bringing with it unexpected staff sick leave; something retailers need to plan for. Retailers undoubtedly need to have a contingency plan in place and back-up staff ready-to-go.

Whether your retail business requires shop floor staff, sales assistants, warehouse workers or packers and delivery staff, one of the quickest and easiest ways to bolster team numbers is with the addition of temporary workers. Here are four reasons why they could be a great fit for your retail business:

1. You’re struggling to fill shifts

Hourly workers tend to come and go much more quickly than salaried staff. They may be students who graduate or whose schedules change, or may be offered permanent roles elsewhere. If you’re struggling to find enough people to fill shifts, temporary workers could be the answer. You can post the shifts you need and available people apply.

2. Your business is highly seasonal

Most retailers see a surge through Christmas, but some will experience exceptional demand. And while it’s the norm for retailers to bum up staff numbers over the Christmas period, hiring and training can take extensive time and drain resources. It’s much easier to simply bring in highly skilled, experienced temp workers and scale up as and when you need.

3. The skills you need are in short supply

Many skills are in particularly high demand in Australia, with retail identified as a sector particularly under pressure. ABS figures from July 2022 revealed over 40,000 job vacancies in retail, and a survey by the Australian Retail Association (ARA) found that 84% were struggling to hire. Using contingent staff is a quick way to get people with the skills and experience you need.

4. You’re trying new products and promotions

Many businesses are innovating and diversifying, trying out new products for Christmas as well as new markets. You may want to test the market for a limited period but not be stuck with extra headcount if a project doesn’t work out. Casual sales staff and promotional staff can add temporary scale without increasing long-term risk.

Temps vs casuals

Temps and casuals can both fill gaps, but there are some important legal differences. According to Fair Work Australia, casuals have no contracted guaranteed hours, usually work irregular hours and don’t accrue sick leave or annual leave. Businesses hiring casuals will have to carry out recruitment, screening and interviewing, and set up payroll, withholding tax, and insurance.

Temporary workers are usually hired via a third party staffing agency, from an existing pool of people. They don’t enter into any contractual arrangements with the businesses using them, the staffing agency handles recruitment, HR and admin.

Ensuring seasonal staff success

It’s important that new staff get up to speed quickly and are confident in their roles. With many seasonal workers doing shifts, this can be more challenging. There isn’t a lot of time to train people and existing staff can get stressed having to compensate. Having a strong onboarding process is critical.

Using pre-vetted staff can also help with this. Staffing solutions can provide access to a pool of people with specific experience who are able to take on immediate work with minimal training. You can also hire the same people for future seasons, without all the admin, time and cost of a recruitment campaign.

Another advantage to using contingent workers is identifying talented future hires who could become valuable permanent staff. Many temps and casuals aren’t currently looking for permanent roles: they may be students, travellers, freelancers or people wanting to make some extra money with weekend shifts. But in future, it’s likely that some of them will become active jobseekers.

Temporary staff are the ideal way to manage fluctuating demand and get access to a new pool of workers. But given escalating demand this Christmas, it’s wise to start recruiting early.

Thomas Amos is CEO of Sidekicker.