Seasonal employment saves a Bonney Lake man's education

Jeremy McPherson will be able to return to school with the wages he earned this holiday season. - Daniel Nash
Jeremy McPherson will be able to return to school with the wages he earned this holiday season.
— image credit: Daniel Nash

National retailers hire tens of thousands of temporary workers after Halloween to keep up with increased demand leading into the holiday shopping season. More than 500,000 people nationwide were hired to winter seasonal jobs in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Online retailer Amazon, which has a distribution warehouse in Sumner, planned to hire 50,000 temporary warehouse associates in 2012. Walmart and Target — both with stores in Bonney Lake — announced plans to hire 50,000 and up to 90,000, respectively.

Temporary employment surges enough in the winter months that the Bureau of Labor Statistics compensates for it in its monthly unemployment reports, lest the extra jobs create a misleading data point in long term employment trends.

But while seasonal work may seem a short-lived boon in the big picture of unemployment, workers like Jeremy McPherson know its benefits firsthand.

McPherson is a full-time seasonal associate at the Goodwill Christmas Shoppe in Bonney Lake and, until recently, an art student at Green River Community College.

"I've always loved art," he said. "Oil painting,  drawing… art is just something I love doing and love studying."

McPherson is about half of the way to earning his associate degree in studio art. Financial aid has taken care of his tuition but, after a year of classes, he found he could no longer afford all the associated costs of schooling.

"I can't afford things like books, a calculator, or gas to Auburn and back every day," he said.

So McPherson withdrew from fall quarter classes and went job hunting. He had previously worked with his father laying carpet, but injuries from a car accident had rendered physically-intensive labor a dead end. However, a Google search for seasonal work turned up opportunities at Goodwill.

The face of Goodwill is its retail operation, selling donated goods at prices low income families can afford. But Goodwill's retail operation bankrolls the organization's associated mission to provide job training and employment for disabled and economically disadvantaged people. Tacoma Goodwill has trained more than 8,600 people to date in 2012, placed more than 1,900 in jobs, and itself employed more than 1,500 people, with 82 percent of those meeting mission criteria.

McPherson believed he would be a good candidate for one of two positions at the Bonney Lake Christmas Shoppe; he didn't have prior retail experience, but he was a hard worker and he believed he fit the profile of a job candidate the organization would want to train. Goodwill agreed and he was hired on in early November.

McPherson encountered a brief learning curve in the beginning, but caught on quickly.

"It took a while to get used to things like customer service and the register," he said. "But I learned really fast how to work the register from the busy days here. Now I'm like a pro at it."

McPherson said he loves the work and the people he works with. And his aplomb hasn't gone unnoticed by management.

"He's very ambitious and a fast learner," store manager Clarissa Breshears said. "He's never been late, never missed a shift, and (he's) great with the customers."

The wages McPherson has earned over the holiday season will allow him to return to school for winter quarter, and buy Christmas presents for his family to boot. He said he plans to apply for continued part-time work at the main Bonney Lake Goodwill store.

"I'm proud to be a part of the staff here," he said. "It's been great… I love everyone here."

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