SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter Macy’s is giving bonuses to employees who refer new hires to the store. Radio Shack has begun offering store discounts to seasonal employees for the first time. And at some Sears stores, there are weekly brainstorming sessions to help drum up new avenues for recruiting. With unemployment levels at an all-time low, companies in the market for temporary workers are finding that good help is hard to find, and they’re turning to new recruiting methods and enticing incentives to boost their ranks for the holiday season. “People aren’t walking in the doors like they used to,” said George Berger, vice president of human resources for Tandy Corp., the Fort Worth company that operates the Radio Shack chain. “You have to do 25 things at the same time to produce prospects for employment. That’s a challenge.” Between July and September, the state’s Employment Development Department Web site logged 289,645 new job orders, but only 172,008 new job seekers registered with the agency in that period. “It shows you that jobs are coming in faster than applicants,” said Tom Neuberger, regional manager for the San Fernando and Antelope valleys. The agency’s San Fernando and Antelope valley offices have about 200 combined seasonal job openings on their books. But that number is expected to increase as the holidays near, and filling seasonal jobs is even more difficult, Neuberger said. In years past, employers looking for seasonal help have been able to draw on an unemployment base of experienced workers who were between jobs and anxious for temporary positions to tide them over. But this year, the average length of unemployment claims is down to seven weeks. “It’s almost an historic low for California,” Neuberger added. “As the unemployment rate gets lower, you’re going to have a higher percentage of new (inexperienced) employees,” he said. Not only are employers likely to face a larger pool of inexperienced workers, they are also dealing with applicants who are not schooled in what’s appropriate for the world of work, say recruiters. Along with more savvy applicants, a job fair at Panorama Mall last week attracted a number of young women clad in shorts and skimpy T-shirts, with tattoos emblazoned across their chests and arms. And employment-agency counselors say that they see applicants with skirts too tight and too short, nose rings and hair that looks stringy and dirty. “It’s just not acceptable, at least when you go on an interview,” said Rosemarie Wolff, president of Royal Staffing Services, an employment agency in Sherman Oaks. Worse yet are the things employers could end up dealing with once a temporary employee is hired. Recruiters say that in an economy with nearly full employment, those seeking temporary work may be poorly motivated or worse. It’s not uncommon for temporary employees to fail to report to assignments or to arrive late. In one case at Royal Staffing, a temporary worker accepted an assignment, then called to say she forgot about her trip to Hawaii. In another case, a young man who made an appointment to apply for temporary work at the agency did not show up for his interview. When he called for another interview several weeks later, he was asked why he never canceled his earlier appointment. His response? He had memory problems. “The people we’re seeing now are the ones who don’t care if they get a job or not,” said Wolff. “In the temporary business, it happens all the time, but it’s more so now.” Aware that many of the best employees are seeking full-time work, United Parcel Service is experimenting with a program of partnering with retail stores that also seek part-timers so that a single employee can secure two part-time posts that add up to a full-time work schedule. Radio Shack, for the first time, is offering employee discounts to temporary employees, a benefit that was previously only available to permanent workers. And Macy’s, which has traditionally offered a store discount to seasonal workers, is now extending those benefits to employees’ friends and family as well. But first, employers have to find workers, and in a tight labor market they are leaving no stone unturned. Employers have set up 800 numbers, sought out city and private employment programs and stepped up their on-campus recruiting efforts and their attendance at job fairs. Last year, employers came to the Panorama Mall community job fair with a total of about 3,000 openings, but 11,000 jobs were represented at this year’s fair on Oct. 22. Louise Marquez, general manager at Panorama Mall, said this year she filled all the available exhibitor slots a month ahead of schedule and had to turn other employers away. “I think part of it has to do with the reality that we do have such an extensive workforce in our community,” Marquez said. “We have a workforce that is more entry level.” Indeed, Wal-Mart, the anchor store at the mall, has not had any trouble drawing walk-in candidates to the stores open interview sessions. “I think there’s still a lot of unemployment in this area,” said Bernie Seaman, the store manager. But in today’s market, most employers say no single recruiting technique is sufficient. “We try everything,” said Diana Trop, human resource specialist at Sears marketing center. “We’re constantly brainstorming, talking to career counselors at schools, putting the word out to marketing students and groups with single parents or widowed moms who are looking to get back into the workforce.” Companies are also increasing their on-campus recruiting efforts, and many target trade schools where they can find students who have had related coursework. Macy’s works closely with fashion merchandising colleges and Universal Studios Hollywood, which hires seasonal food preparation employees, uses cooking schools. “As recently as two or three years ago, our primary source of candidates was through open recruitment ads,” said Diana Rea, director of human resources for Universal Studios Hollywood. “But when employment is higher, there’s a greater risk that you’re not going to have the same draw. So the idea is to go to your more steady stream of candidates.” Earlier this year, Universal Studios began working closely with the EDD, an effort the company says has paid off. It usually takes four applicants to yield one hire, but the rate of hire from the EDD is running at about 30 percent. “It’s all about building an understanding between the representatives of those agencies so they can refer people that better fit the qualities and skills we’re looking for,” said Rea. Employers like Radio Shack and Macy’s say their own employees and customers often prove to be the best sources for job candidates. Radio Shack uses its sales flyers to let customers know of job opportunities and it holds in-store recruiting promotions to encourage friends and family members to apply for jobs. Last year, Macy’s West developed an 800 number that applicants can call to get a brief overview of the store’s hiring needs and undergo an initial screening. Potential sales associates are asked to answer questions about their computer literacy, past and current work performance and their availability, among other questions. This year, the company kicked off its recruiting drive with a promotion that included posting signs throughout the store and a contest to help encourage employees to mention holiday jobs to their friends and families. “We came up with a few creative solutions, but it took some careful planning and strategic thinking,” said Merle Goldstone, spokesman for Macy’s West.