Seasonal work still an option for Beaufort County's unemployed

gmartin@islandpacket.comNovember 28, 2011 

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For the more than 5,000 unemployed in Beaufort County, the next four weeks may offer an opportunity to scrape together some holiday cash.

Black Friday marked the unofficial start of the part-time labor season, as employers look for extra help to deal with the crush of holiday shoppers.

This year, retailers alone are hiring about 500,000 seasonal employees, most of them part-time, according to the National Retail Federation.

Recently released figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest part-time labor is becoming increasingly common nationwide.

There are 8.9 million "involuntary part-time employees," people working on a temporary basis because their hours have been cut or they were unable to find a full-time job, according to the BLS. That's up from 8.4 million in January.

The percentage of the workforce composed of part-time employees this year is 19.3, about 2 percentage points higher than in 2008.

The trend is evident in Beaufort County, according to Jamie Wood, director of Lowcountry Workforce Development.

"We're seeing more people seeking part-time work that might be more traditionally suited for full-time jobs," Wood said. "Some of these are young folks fresh out of school looking to get their foot in the door somewhere, but many others are older and more experienced."

What advice does he have for those looking for work this holiday season?

"First, you have to be flexible," he said. "It's best not to have any preconceived notions about what hours you want to work or what you're willing to do.

"And second, treat any part-time job you get like it's a full-time one. You never know when things might change, and you have to be prepared for that opportunity when they do."

At 8.2 percent, Beaufort County's unemployment rate is the fourth-lowest in the state, according to the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce. The statewide average is 10.5 percent.

But local employment agencies are still seeing a steady stream of people seeking work.

"We haven't really seen an increase in people coming in this time of year," said Tess Matthews, manager of the Ambassador employment agency in Beaufort. "But it's just been consistent all year."

Kevin Kowal, owner of the Coastal Connections employment agency on Hilton Head Island, estimated his company aids about 150 people per week during the holiday season.

Kowal said local demand for jobs is typically even higher in the summer months -- his agency helps staff the area's hospitality and tourism industries -- but that the economic downturn's impact can be felt year-round.

"People are getting very creative when it comes to making ends meet these days," Kowal said.

Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

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