As United Parcel Service Inc. hires a holiday workforce bigger than Macy's Inc., recruits get a quick course in lifting heavy loads, doubling up on socks, and, in a jam, fending off snarling dogs with handheld computers.
The world's biggest package delivery company is rushing to hire as many as 95,000 people to cope with projected record deliveries. UPS is determined to perform better than last year, when harsh weather and a surge in last-minute online shopping orders caused more than a few packages to be delivered after Christmas.
Some of these employees, being recruited online via iPhones or college visits from Boston to Seattle, will wind up sorting packages in temporary portable buildings. Some will deliver boxes in Los Angeles office towers, and 207 of them will be sent out to drive signature brown Pullman trucks — in attire of the same hue — while dodging taxis and bicycle couriers in New York.
"You have these crazy kamikaze messengers" said Tony Hussienroshdy, a UPS safety trainer who looks a bit like action hero Dwayne "Rock" Johnson and has biceps to match, as he advised a group of fresh hires on the perils of package delivery.
The frenzy was palpable at a training session this month in New York. As some applicants flowed in to seek positions, new employees learned to guard against back injuries while lugging packages as heavy as 70 pounds and got pointers on situational awareness in Manhattan's crowded streets, as well as personal grooming.
Men are permitted to wear one earring, like a stud, but "nothing gaudy," personnel official Janet Martinez said.
UPS expects to deliver 585 million packages in December, or the equivalent of 1.9 packages for every person in the country. Such volume will put its plan to the test.
The company peaked at 31 million packages delivered in a single day last holiday season; this year it expects six days to surpass that single-day figure.
UPS started formulating its 2014 strategy shortly after last Christmas, seeking ways to handle increased volume more efficiently and reliably.
One part of that plan has UPS stringing together modular units, akin to trailer-type buildings used to add space to some schools, into 15 "mobile distribution center villages" around the country. Drivers will pull into the villages' delivery bays, pick up a load and head back out.
Another component calls for better policing of the amounts of packages that UPS's biggest retail customers send its way for delivery, making sure they align with companies' forecasts.
Helping to carry out these goals will be a seasonal workforce bigger than those of Macy's, which plans 86,000 holiday hires, and Amazon.com Inc.'s 80,000.
Most of UPS's hiring is done online, with ads placed on websites such as Careerbuilder.com in markets nationwide, supplemented with trips to colleges and a "friends and family" campaign that gives prizes to employees for candidate referrals.
People playing the Words With Friends game on their iPhones occasionally see a UPS job ad pop up. Most click to get rid of it quickly, but some follow it to UPS.com, said Matthew Donoghue, who manages the UPS account for advertising agency TMP Worldwide in Boston.
Ready for work
Almost as many people apply for a UPS seasonal job on their cell phones as a laptop or desktop computer, Donoghue said. "It increases every year, but we saw a gigantic increase in mobile," he said.
The company is nearing completion with its hiring push. At an investor conference in mid-November, Atlanta-based UPS said it had already hired 80,000 holiday workers.
More laborious than hooking candidates is getting them ready for work. All told, UPS is hiring 50,000 driver helpers, 30,000 package handlers and 15,000 drivers.
On a recent drizzly day down the block from Manhattan's Lincoln Tunnel, 25 new driver helpers, who would soon receive company-issued brown pullover jacket, hat and slacks, got advice.
Every day, as many as 35 fresh faces roll through the eight-story UPS operations facility for training, joined by as many as 100 job candidates for interviews.
Hussienroshdy, the trainer, helps prepare the recruits.
Tip 1: Always be aware of your surroundings.
In New York City, a big challenge is navigating through streets clogged with taxis and tour buses, with bike delivery guys zig-zagging through at top-speed.
"I'm not knocking them, but sometimes I wonder if they get up in the mornings saying, I'm going to knock four people down today," Hussienroshdy said.
Tip 2: UPS's handheld computers, or DIADs, used to scan packages and accept signatures, can also be protective devices.
Hussienroshdy advised the young hires to use them or packages to block a threatening dog. However, that's not usually necessary in New York.
"The dogs here are not that dangerous," he said. "Some get treated better than people."
Tip 3: Be careful when using UPS's hand trucks, or dollies. On New York's uneven streets, the handles can rear up and whack your chin.
"You guys aren't going to be making that much money," Hussienroshdy told the room of trainees who will make $8 an hour. "Do you really want to get hurt for that?"
Life as a driver helper can be very different depending on whether you work in New York City or a tree-lined neighborhood. Carlos Torres, a 25-year UPS driver, spends as many as 3 1/2 hours a day dropping off packages inside the same building, 475 Park Ave. South, in Manhattan, and his world consists of four blocks surrounding it.
On a normal day, the office tower will get as many 60 boxes. During the holiday season, that can more than double to 150, Torres said.
As he listened to a human resources officer talk about working for UPS, applicant Neil McCurbin plotted out the next four or five years of his life.
Long term, he sees himself as a police officer. In the short term, he sees opportunity at UPS.