Amid the Jobs Implosion, Some Companies are Rapidly Hiring: The Globe & Mail

As hundreds of thousands of Canadians join the ranks of the unemployed amid the continuing COVID-19 epidemic, some companies are seeing increased demand – and hiring accordingly.

As a result, the labour market has splintered. An overwhelming number of businesses are on hold, shuttered or scaled back. But others are scrambling to keep up with a sudden need for their services.

Among those hiring are Walmart Canada, Amazon and Dollarama, along with some grocery and drug store chains, medical supply makers, some cleaning and security services and IT firms that enable remote work.

The pockets of expansion aren’t nearly enough to offset massive losses. The speed and scale of the job losses have been “breathtaking,” said Jeff Aplin, Calgary-based president and chief executive officer of recruiting firm David Aplin Group. That said “there is a very small, narrow band that is experiencing increased demand and a surge in services.”

Employers fall into three categories, he said: those that have been devastated by the impact of the pandemic and may not survive; those hunkered down on the sidelines, trying to conserve cash with temporary layoffs; and the minority that are growing.

“There are very small flecks of light in the labour market, and there are people getting jobs in this situation. There’s not many..but there is a little bit of hiring.”

The pandemic is creating a spike in near-term demand for crucial goods and services. Grocery shelves still need to be stocked, pizza needs delivery and packages have to be dropped in mailboxes. In many cases, this reflects changing consumption patterns: courier and logistics services are busy along with some bread makers, meat producers and pizza chains.

Canadians stocked up on so much white and wheat bread last week that Canada Bread reduced production of some items to keep up with demand for its bestsellers. “I don’t know how we compare to the toilet paper numbers, but we were definitely a very, very popular item last week,” said Marie-Eve Royer, senior vice-president of business transformation. The company, owned by the Mexico-based Grupo Bimbo, saw record sales, and while demand has tapered, sales are still significantly higher than the same period last year.

As a result, the company is looking to fill 300 positions at its 16 bakeries and 14 distribution centres in Canada. This period marks a busy hiring season for Canada Bread ordinarily, “but we’re hiring a lot more than we would normally,” Ms. Royer said.

The food sector will have to adjust to massive changes in consumption, given the closing of many restaurants and that people are staying in – and cooking – at home, said Sylvain Charlebois, professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University. This has resulted in booming demand for milk, eggs, flour and chicken.

“The demand for these products is unprecedented, which means that, if you think about labour, these sectors are going to grow,” he said.

Online job ads have plunged – but not everywhere. Positions still listed on job-posting site include software developers, security guards, health care aides and personal care workers, said economist Brendon Bernard.

Goodfood Market Corp. is hiring more than 500 people – a 25-per-cent increase to its employee base – after seeing more orders from existing customers, as well as new signups in recent weeks. Goodfood, which primarily assembles and delivers meal kits, is hiring associates, drivers and customer service agents. “There’s a lot of Canadians being laid off, so we’re excited to be creating some opportunities for them,” said chief executive officer Jonathan Ferrari, adding he’s reached out to other companies that have laid off workers to recruit for temporary positions at Goodfood.

Walmart Canada implemented a rapid hiring process to bring on 10,000 new people at its stores and distribution centres. While the company has undertaken large waves of hiring before, it’s rarely moved so quickly. “We can turn around offers within about four hours,” said Michael Watson, vice-president of people, field operations and strategy. Since making the hiring announcement last week and posting jobs over the weekend, Walmart has received 13,000 applications.

Amazon expects to hire another 1,000 workers in Canada at its fulfillment centres and delivery network, while Loblaw Cos. Ltd. set up a site to recruit temporary workers last week, and said it’s received thousands of applications and placed hundreds of people already. The company is hiring store clerks, and pharmacists and pharmacy assistants at its Shoppers Drug Mart stores, in addition to other positions. Anticipating more demand for delivery, Domino’s Pizza of Canada is hiring between 2,500 and 3,000 new employees for its 528 stores.

With more Canadians relying on online shopping rather than braving grocery stores, delivery service Instacart said it expects to bring on 30,000 new personal shoppers in Canada over the next three months.

In eastern Quebec, Umano Medical, a hospital bed manufacturer, has received more orders In the past two weeks than it did in all of 2019. One month ago, company president Christian Cariou was wrestling with the labour shortage that has plagued his company, based in I’Islet, about 100 kilometres northeast of Quebec City, and the entire region.

“Sadly, the candidate bank is enormous now,” Mr. Cariou said.

The company is in the process of adding 40 production staff to try to increase production by 50 per cent in the next three weeks. The company will employ 240 people when the expansion is complete.

“It’s put us in this weird situation where we’re one of the few places growing. It’s a strange time for everyone,” Mr. Cariou said. “These aren’t easy times.”

The federal government said Friday it will boost wage subsidies for small businesses, though it’s unclear how much they will rehire. Already, nearly one million Canadians applied for employment insurance last week, as retailers, restaurants and many hotels closed their doors and cut employees loose. Ironically, that in itself is creating job opportunities. Employment and Social Development Canada said it’s in the process of hiring additional staff to help deal with the massive number of EI applications. and ensure that other programs, such as the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security, are not disrupted. A spokesperson could not say how many new workers are required, however.

Adding staff remains the rare exception. Hiring plans among small businesses “have ground to a halt,” the CFIB’s survey this week showed, with just 5 per cent of business owners planning to add full-time staff in the next three months.

While job openings are a rare bit of good news amid the unending torrent of layoffs, these new positions are, at best, a buffer against further economic devastation. “I don’t think this is going to be enough for the massive amount of people that we’re seeing unemployed,” said Andrew Agopsowicz, a senior economist at RBC.

Job quality is an issue, too. Some of the openings are just temporary, while others, such as those with Instacart, are independent contractor positions. Personal shoppers don’t receive benefits, as would full-time employees.

Written by Tavia Grant, Joe Castaldo, and Les Perreaux