As the holiday hiring season ramps up, businesses in Colorado are taking a cautious approach

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Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An Amazon employee directs dozens of delivery trucks inside the company’s cavernous Himalaya Road facility in Aurora, Dec.6, 2022.

It’s the end of the shift at Amazon’s delivery facility just east of Denver in Aurora. Workers are getting the final packages of the day ready to load on an army of vans that will take the boxes to their final destination.

“Really it is the month between Black Friday and Christmas is just absolutely crazy,” said Madison Olson, the company’s site lead at the facility, which is Amazon’s largest distribution center in Colorado. 

She oversees the roughly 2,000 people that make it run. To give the cavernous space a sense of scale, Olson, who has a background in aerospace engineering, estimates that 20 huge Boeing passenger jets could fit inside the facility. 

“Today we processed 105,000 [packages],” Olson said. “We'll process anywhere up to 120 …  130,000 packages every single day out of this building.”

That’s holiday volume, which is about 30 percent higher than during non-peak times of the year, according to Olson. There are about 150 seasonal workers at her location that were hired on to deal with all those extra packages.

“I knew to make sure we were hiring early, so we started hiring for now, six weeks ago. So really six weeks, eight weeks ago is when we started getting folks onboarded to make sure we could have 'em trained and ready to go for the holiday season,” Olson said.

Businesses across Colorado are getting ready for the holidays by adding staff to get through what is the busiest month of the year for many of them. Seasonal hiring plans offer a glimpse of where companies think the economy is headed. But this year’s holiday shopping bonanza is coming at a weird moment for the economy. Stubborn inflation is chipping away at paychecks, but consumer spending is still really strong. The Federal Reserve's effort to tame inflation by raising interest rates has started to slow some sectors of the economy, especially the housing market.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Amazon workers at the the company’s facility on Himalaya Road in Aurora sort and then move trolleys loaded with packages to an area where they will be loaded on trucks for delivery. Dec.6, 2022.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Madison Olson is in charge of operations at Amazon’s Himalaya Road facility in Aurora, where she leads and keeps track of almost 2,000 workers. The cavernous building behind her is comparatively quite midday Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. But overnight, when most seasonal employees are at work, the thrums with people and movement.

Still, overall, the job market is growing. That means there’s still more jobs than job seekers, which should point to companies staging aggressive hiring pushes for the holidays.

But that's not necessarily what’s happening. Several major retailers actually reduced their seasonal hiring nationally by a lot this year. For instance, Walmart announced it’s adding 40,000 seasonal roles this year, down from 150,000 last year. Department stores including Macys and Nordstroms also lowered their seasonal hiring targets compared to last year.

The conflicting signals make it difficult to read the tea leaves for Colorado. An Amazon spokesperson says their statewide seasonal hiring is down slightly this year. FedEx, which announced last month that it was furloughing workers in its freight division in some U.S. markets due to weak demand, said it planned to hire 350 seasonal workers for its new facility in Aurora. A spokesperson didn’t elaborate on how that fit in with its broader hiring plans in the state or how those plans compare to last year. 

Meanwhile, UPS’ plans for seasonal hiring in Colorado are about the same as in 2021.

“We're [going to] be adding just under 2,500 people between our Commerce City, our Englewood and our Aurora facility. Those are our three largest facilities in the state of Colorado,” Jeff Bloedorn, the Colorado director of human resources at UPS, said in an interview.

As far as pay goes, Bloedorn said that hasn’t really changed much either, even though a lot of companies have been boosting wages substantially to attract workers for the past year or so.

“Last year for our drivers, we paid $29.75 an hour. This year we're paying $30 … so when I say similar, they're very close year over year,” he said.

Similar to Amazon, UPS started its holiday hiring push early this year to ensure adequate staffing, according to Bloedorn. Still, there were open roles left to fill as of late November in large metropolitan areas like Denver where there’s a lot of competition for workers, he said.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Amazon packages are loaded on delivery trucks. Dec.6, 2022, at the company’s Himalaya Road facility in Aurora.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The cavernous Amazon building on Himalaya Road in Aurora is comparatively quite midday Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. But overnight, when most seasonal employees are at work, the thrums with people and movement.

“We're gonna need to continue to have these workers to help deliver the packages, load the package cars … We'll probably be hiring up until mid-December,” Bloedorn said.

In Colorado, like in the rest of the country, the most difficult role to fill for the holidays is likely to be drivers, according to Sinem Buber, an economist with job listing website ZipRecruiter.

“We still need a lot of truck drivers. There's a big truck driver shortage in the U.S. right now. So even if the businesses will slow down, we still need to catch up with the hiring needs in those occupations,” she said. “Those people are hired on the spot [with] big signing bonuses and better job security.”

Colorado state economist Ryan Gedney said seasonal hiring trends will become clearer when the state releases an update on hiring in November. The national jobs report for November, which comes out several weeks prior to state numbers, showed the retail and transportation sectors losing jobs, which could be an ominous indicator for the state’s economic well-being. 

But Gedney said he’s not jumping to any conclusions about Colorado.

“It’s just too early,” Gedney said.