It's Christmas in July -- at least when it comes to hiring.

Kohl's (NYSE:KSS) has kicked off the holiday season early by launching an effort to recruit workers for 500 of its stores and distribution centers. Kohl's is trying to lock down workers before rivals even start hiring, which may be a smart play with U.S. unemployment rates near historic lows.

The retail chain actually has pretty modest goals. It wants to add early seasonal temporary employees across 500 locations. Those location numbers will increase in August, with all the chain's stores and distribution and e-commerce fulfillment centers adding both full- and part-time workers. The company also has 3,000 traditional positions open across all of its locations.

"Our early seasonal hiring strategy positions Kohl's for success during the back half of the year and ensures our store teams are fully staffed and trained to meet the needs of our customers during the holiday season," said Kohl's Chief People Officer Marc Chini in a press release out this week.

A Kohl's storefront.

Kohl's plans to start hiring seasonal workers now. Image source: Kohl's.

Why is Kohl's doing this?

This isn't the first time Kohl's has started its seasonal hiring efforts early. Last year the chain kicked off a more modest summer hiring effort in June. The company is making the push partly because it needs more workers but does not want to commit to permanent positions and partly to beat other retailers to the punch.

In theory, this effort should get Kohl's first dibs on the best employees. That should include people looking to work full-time with hopes that the job becomes permanent, as well as people looking for a second job to earn added income.

Kohl's may need every edge it can get as it fights for seasonal employees with rivals, including Target, Walmart, and partner/rival Amazon. All of those companies pay much higher entry-level wages, with Target offering a minimum of $13 an hour, Walmart offering $11, and Amazon starting workers at a $15 minimum wage. Kohl's entry-level workers average around $9 per hour, according to data from Glassdoor. Kohl's may pay entry-level workers more in some markets, but it does not set an official companywide minimum wage..

Wages may prove to be a major problem for Kohl's, as it's looking for workers at a time when they are in short supply. The retail chain does have a reputation for offering very flexible hours for part-time workers, which has helped it attract talent in previous years.

Of course, Kohl's did meet its seasonal hiring goal of adding 90,000 workers in 2018. The company has not said what its overall goal is for 2019.

A smart move

Kohl's needs both permanent and seasonal workers, and it has to staff five new stores opening this year. The company might struggle to fill those positions because of broader labor shortages and because its wages fall below what many of its rivals pay.

The chain is smart to be getting an early start. That may help it grab people looking for a second job who aren't willing to wait to see which companies decide to make seasonal hires this year.

In the long run, though, Kohl's may have to consider boosting its hourly wages (it does offer other worker benefits that help it competitively). There may not be enough workers in the market willing to take these jobs, and that could force the company to automate and/or raise wages.

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