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Integrity helps Amazon.com prepare for the holiday Rush! (feature in Lexington Herald Leader)
Linda Blackford

Dec 01, 2007

Temporary jobs spark holiday rush AMAZON APPLICANTS ARE MANY, VARIED By Linda B. Blackford And Scott Sloan LBLACKFORD@ HERALD-LEADER.COM ssloan@herald-leader.com David Stephenson | Staff Integrity Staffing Solutions, using two houses on Leestown Road, is seeing 1,200 applicants a week for holiday temp jobs at Amazon.com. Photo by David Stephenson | Staff Charleath Avery understands why so many cars from around the state are parked outside the two red brick houses on Leestown Road, and why people are lining up inside. The houses are the offices of Integrity Staffing Solutions, which is hiring temporary workers for Amazon.com. "Amazon is good money," he said. Although he has a day job, Avery worked at the national online retailer's Lexington distribution center as a holiday temp on the night-shift last year and is reapplying to do the same thing this year. To meet holiday demand for Amazon's shipping, Integrity will provide between 2,500 and 2,800 temporary workers from Lexington and surrounding counties, says Todd Bavol, Integrity's founder and CEO. "We have folks picking, packing, shipping and receiving," Bavol said. "We're seeing about 1,200 people a week." However, only 30 to 40 percent of the applicants are chosen. Integrity sees that as fairly normal in a state with low education rates. Rejecting so many applicants for a job requiring limited skills might seem surprising to some, but the rate wasn't unexpected to Ken Troske, director of the University of Kentucky's Center for Business and Economic Research. He pointed out that the state does have more than its share of problems with both education and drug use. Temporary jobs generally draw a pool of applicants with widely varying backgrounds Ð including stay-at-home parents looking for a flexible schedule and people with drug habits searching for employers they don't think will require testing. "I worked temp help at one point in my life," Troske said. "I tended to be a little more qualified than the typical temp help worker. At least I like to think that." That Integrity Staffing Solutions finds itself with enough qualified applicants, though, is a good sign, Troske said. "One of the things that severely limits businesses in Kentucky is their ability not only to find workers when they first come here, but, like Amazon, to continue to find workers when the business grows," he said. Amazon has had problems in finding enough people to hire in other areas, too, said Patty Smith, a spokeswoman at Amazon's main office in Seattle. "In some areas we have to look outside the immediate area, but in Lexington, we've been pleased with the quality and quantity," she said. Maggie Coats, the manager of Manpower Central Kentucky, a staffing company, says in day-to-day business, her company does a lot of pre-screening over the phone, which allows it to home in on applicants who can be hired. "Amazon needs so many people that they bring everyone in and have to shake them out," she said. Some become full-time The people chosen by Integrity head over to a wooden trailer in front of the Amazon warehouse on Mercer Road, where they take drug tests and learn the basics of their jobs. Bavol said that, in the past eight months, between 700 and 800 Integrity temporary workers have become "full-time Amazonians." "One of the best parts is there are so many folks who need work around the holiday, and you can make significant money," Bavol said. Most people start out at $11 an hour, with up to $14.50 for night-time weekend shifts. There's overtime too, and Integrity offers basic health benefits. "I told one woman she'd been chosen and she burst into tears and said 'Good. I can do Christmas for the kids,'" he said. Because the Lexington warehouse is a return center, too, the holiday season lasts through January, said Smith, the Amazon spokeswoman. Smith said Amazon doesn't comment on sales between quarterly reports. In October, the company reported expected sales for the fourth quarter to be between $5.1 billion and $5.45 billion. That's 28-37 percent more than fourth-quarter 2006. "We're very pleased we've been able to recruit from Lexington and the surrounding areas," Smith said. "In some areas we have to look outside the immediate area." Amazon opened its Lexington warehouse in 2000, and has five centers in Kentucky -- more than in any other state. There are two in Hebron and one each in Louisville and Campbellsville. In October, the company announced the addition of 400 permanent jobs to join the roughly 950 others at the Lexington site. Carpooling to commute Bavol said people have been applying for the current temporary jobs from surrounding counties and from as far away as Wolfe and Powell counties. Some are carpooling to make the hourlong commute. Sean Montgomery runs Integrity's orientation program at the distribution center, and helps with an incentive program for the temporary workers to meet certain goals, such as packing so many boxes an hour for a monetary prize. "It provides motivation for them to meet targets," he said. Bazol started Integrity after working as a temp himself in Delaware, where Amazon happened to open its first distribution center outside of Seattle. He's been working with Amazon ever since. That's something Katharine B. Wilson would like to try, too. She already has a day job, but thinks Amazon might be more fun. "It seems like it would be more interesting," she said. "I want to find a part-time night job. It will help."
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