A UPS package handler unloads an air freight container at Worldport in Louisville. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

Logistics giant UPS is hiring up to 200 employees per week in Louisville as it gears up for the busy holiday season, and officials say the hiring pace is accelerating as it looks for packers, driver helpers and delivery drivers.

The company said it would hire about 95,000 seasonal employees this year, including about 3,400 in Louisville. E-commerce is booming, and UPS expects shipping volume this holiday season to increase 5 percent from last year.

The company’s operations at the Louisville airport on a recent Friday took care of about one million packages. On weekdays the campus, which covers 90 football fields, handles about 1.6 million packages — but that will spike to 2.4 million toward the end of the year and to about four million around Christmas.

“We’re pretty close to capacity at that point,” said Kevin Harley, a full-time supervisor for Wing C.

His team is keeping busy hiring and training people to prepare for the holiday rush — but it still has to take care of incoming and outgoing planes.

On that recent Friday, workers at one of the 70 aircraft docks used a lifting mechanism to remove from a parked plane 4,000-pound containers and lower them onto a floor. Rollers in the floor allowed employees to pull the containers by hand into the building, where they placed them next to a conveyor belt. Employees inside Wing C opened the containers, grabbed packages and placed them, label side up, onto the conveyors.

Kevin Harley | Courtesy of UPS

From there, a network of about 34,000 conveyors, scanners, cameras and computers rush the packages through the facility until a final conveyor delivers them to another employee who places them inside another container to be flown elsewhere or onto a truck to be delivered. Depending on its origin or destination, conveyors may deliver the package to another container within the same wing within a couple of minutes — or through the central hub and into another wing a couple of miles away, which can take 15 minutes.

Harley said that many of the tasks that are fulfilled by machines and computers today required human hands and minds when he started with the company 30 years ago. He still remembers ZIP codes for essentially the entire country, because he used to have to read package labels and determine from the ZIP code where the packages were going.

Since those early days in Louisville, the facility’s foot print has changed significantly, Harley said. When he started, a busy day meant 100,000 packages. Now on a typical weekday, the facility handles 10 times that volume.

In the last few years, UPS has invested primarily to add truck loading docks to be able to get more packages into the facility at a faster pace and to eliminate a bottleneck that prevented trucks from being unloaded more quickly. But that also means UPS needs more people to unload the trucks.

UPS teams are meeting weekly now to figure out how many packages they’ll have to handle and which parts of which wing they’ll have to open and staff.

To be able to attract employees in a tight labor market, Harley said the company focuses on bonuses, fun and flexibility. Seasonal package handlers can earn $10.20 per hour, but designated shift workers also get a $200 weekly bonus. That draws a few college kids who are in Louisville for the holidays, Harley said.

UPS planes at Worldport in Louisville. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

The company also allows people to arrive early or to stay late, when they have medical appointments or need to take their kids somewhere. UPS also does little things to help improve the atmosphere, he said, from awarding pizza for meeting safety goals to holding drawings in which people can win tablet computers and TV sets.

The metro area’s unemployment rate in September was 3.7 percent, and employers each month are posting nearly 9,000 open jobs, according to federal and state agencies.

“The market is … pretty much fully employed,” Harley said. “So it’s a challenge.”

The company, too, has to be flexible, to be able to adapt quickly to changing package volumes. Harley said he knows in advance which planes are to arrive when, but weather can upend those plans quickly. And from one day to the next, a customer may call to say that five trucks will be arriving today instead of the usual two. Sometimes those additional trucks will get unloaded in Harley’s wing, but at peak times, they may get routed elsewhere.

UPS also is hiring driver helpers, who can earn $15 per hour; delivery drivers, who get $18.75 per hour; and tractor-trailer drivers, who can earn $32. About a third of the seasonal employees end up staying with the company full-time. People can apply online or come to the UPS Employment Center, 8203 National Turnpike. UPS employs about 20,000 in the Louisville area.

As soon as peak season ends, planning for the next peak season begins. And that, Harley said, is something that hasn’t changed in 30 years.