Training Holiday Help Yields Year-Round Benefits

Done correctly, the process of getting seasonal help up to speed can bring about documented definitions of a company’s job roles, boosting its overall development capabilities.

With the holidays in full swing, companies across a range of industries are hiring temporary help to maintain productivity during this busy season. One of the biggest challenges in bringing on a large number of employees for a limited time is getting them trained quickly so their short-term employment is worthwhile for all involved. This is a challenge learning and development professionals will continue to face as the economy remains in a lull and organizations are making do with reduced head counts, becoming more reliant on contingent workforces.

“We definitely are finding more availability of these types of jobs,” said Sara Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, a job-lead aggregator specializing in screening professionally oriented, flexible employment opportunities, including temporary ones. “The employment market drops so dramatically every year and the only market that grows is seasonal, holiday jobs. It is such a spike and there is such an interest [in them]; especially now in the last few years with people looking for second and third holiday jobs to help pay holiday bills.” Fell said the retail and tourism industries are the most likely to rely on temporary holiday help, and also pointed to accounting.

Part-Time Pros provides part-time and full-time staffing to companies in need of degree-educated professionals. Carey Baker, president and CEO of Part-Time Pros, explained why companies “in the professional office realm” may need temporary help during the holidays.

“Typically the type of temporary placements that we see during the holidays [are] helping fill in for the individuals that are going on vacation, because it’s a big time for the existing employee base to take their vacation,” Baker said. “Particularly when you’re working with a small business, if you have one or two individuals who are out it can be very disruptive for the entire office.”

According to Baker, the trend is for companies that anticipate needing such backups to start bringing them in now to ease the training process. “For example, we have a manufacturing client that actually brought someone in last Friday, and the plan is to bring her in a few days over the next few weeks to train her to fill in for the receptionist who is going to be out a lot of December,” she said.

How else can companies ease the process of training temporary holiday help? Baker recommended hiring for experience as a good first step, adding that a candidate’s experience doesn’t necessarily need to match the industry in question — the job itself is more important. “Even though it may be a different culture, it may be a whole different computer setup, etc., if they’ve done that job — if they’ve done purchasing, if they’ve done retail, if they’ve done customer service, if they’ve done sales — they can take that experience and transfer that on,” she said.

Fell recommended defining the job role to streamline training temporary employees. “They don’t have the luxury of a long timeline to get up to speed, so you have to be very clear on what the expectations are,” she said. “So I would first focus on the priorities of the role and make sure that you’re setting them up to be able to be successful at that; that you’re not expecting way too much from somebody who can’t dive right in.”

From this process of definition should spring documentation of the demands of the job, which can be shared with a temporary employee before his or her start date. Fell recommended testing employees on this documentation on their first day to see how much they’ve absorbed. “But it also should go into the hiring process itself,” she said. “Set yourself for hiring the best people who can learn in a quick way.” Part-Time Pros uses Prove It! software to test candidates to ensure they’re proficient in certain skills prior to placement.

Baker echoed Fell’s emphasis on defining the expectations around a job and documenting them, recommending that companies solicit this content from their permanent employees. “When a company looks at its existing employee base, really challenge those employees to have specific job descriptions,” she said. “Have documented processes on how they do that job so that document can be used to train additional people whether it’s during the holidays or throughout the year.”

Baker explained how the process of hiring and training temporary holiday help is a way for companies to build up a stable of people they can use at any time or even eventually hire. She said, “It’s a great opportunity for potential employers to test drive employees, so that when they’re using them on a temporary basis, [if] they’ve got someone who comes in and is just a stellar employee, constantly going above and beyond and exceeding expectations, it may create a long-term position for that individual the following year.”

Daniel Margolis is a managing editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at