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Part-time workers in for a change this holiday

Toys R Us is shaking up its holiday hiring strategy.

The toy store on Tuesday said it will hire 40,000 seasonal employees at its stores and distribution centers this year, down from 45,000 last year. Though the company's workforce won't be as robust, a spokeswoman said it will offer more hours to its existing and seasonal employees.

Whereas last year's holiday hires worked an average seven hours a week—and up to 20 hours during the peak season—this year they will average 18 to 20 hours a week, and up to 30 hours during the highest-traffic periods.

Employees assist shoppers at the check-out counter of a Toys R Us Inc. store in New York.
Peter Foley | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Employees assist shoppers at the check-out counter of a Toys R Us Inc. store in New York.

The shift comes amid a series of industry initiatives to attract—and retain—qualified workers. These include recent minimum wage hikes from Wal-Mart and TJX, and a slew of retailers promising to end on-call shifts that prevented employees from scheduling part-time hours with other employers.

It also comes amid concerns that a tightening labor force could make it harder for employers across industries to fill part-time jobs.

"Our expanded workforce, together with our more tenured toy experts, plays a pivotal role in ensuring we provide an exceptional experience for shoppers in search of gifts," said Dave Brandon, chairman and CEO of Toys R Us.

The company's holiday forecast includes workers at its 120 pop-up Express locations, which typically employ 10 people each. Last year, the retailer operated roughly 200 of these temporary locations.

Toys R Us' announcement comes just hours after a widely watched holiday forecast predicted that retail hiring will remain flat during the final three months of the year.

Despite a strengthening U.S. economy, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said it expects retailers to once again add roughly 755,000 seasonal hires to their payrolls.

Also this week, Target said that it would hire 70,000 holiday workers for the third year in a row, and UPS said it would add 90,000 to 95,000 seasonal workers—the same projection it gave last year. The shipping company ended up hiring 100,000 people in 2014.

"Once again, most analysts are anticipating healthy holiday sales this year," CEO John Challenger said in a press release. "However, there are several factors that may prevent these strong sales expectations from translating into increased hiring."

Among these, Challenger said, are the fact that retailers hired 449,500 people from March through August—up from 437,000 during the period of last year.

"In addition to steady hiring leading up to the holiday season, changes in the way consumers shop are making it possible for stores to meet increased holiday demand with fewer extra workers," Challenger said. "When retailers do add holiday workers, fewer of those jobs are in traditional spots, such as sales clerk or cashier."

Earlier this month, labor experts warned that a tightening job market could spur a decrease in demand for part-time retail jobs, particularly in companies' warehouses.

Many job seekers use seasonal holiday positions as a means for transitioning into a full-time role. At Toys R Us, which employs 66,000 workers around the world, 20 percent of its 2014 holiday workforce stayed with the company after Christmas.

Last year, Challenger predicted retailers would hire more than 800,000 seasonal workers from October through December, which would have been the first time they hit this number since 1999. Instead, they ended up adding 755,000 jobs, a decline of 4 percent from 2013. That year, retailers added 786,800 jobs—the greatest amount since 1999's 850,000.