Coronavirus: How do you hire during a pandemic?

A woman reaches for toilet paperImage copyright Google
Image caption As elsewhere in the UK, the demand for food and household items has surged in NI

For business, Covid-19 is a narrative of supply and demand.

The demand for food and household items have surged in Northern Ireland, with prices of items like pasta and toilet roll rising four times the rate of the overall consumer price index inflation rate in March, according to Ulster Bank.

Take-away restaurants are booming and now restaurants are pivoting to that business model to maintain some level of revenue.

Image caption Aodhán Connolly said retailers had spent more than £100m on implementing social distancing

As the UK went into lockdown, Tesco, Asda, Aldi, and Lidl said they would hire thousands of staff after hugely increased demand.

“Across the UK, tens of thousands of staff have been hired and we in Northern Ireland have been hiring proportionately too,” said Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium.

“Retailers across Great Britain and Northern Ireland have been recruiting for many reasons.

“They have had to backfill jobs for colleagues who had to self-isolate, as well as hire new staff to deal with the immense growth in demand for labour intensive activities such as delivery and click and collect.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Some supermarkets have hired extra security staff to keep shoppers safe

“Some have also hired more staff to work at quieter times and at night so that less restocking takes place at busy times, allowing for more social distancing.”

Mr Connolly said that, in total, retailers had spent more than £100m on implementing social distancing.

How do you hire during a pandemic?

Like many other business practices, Covid-19 has changed how businesses hire new staff.

While the base application process for retailers has largely remained the same, Mr Connolly said that technology is playing its part as many retailers are interviewing virtually.

Devenish Nutrition, an agri-food firm based in Belfast, specialises in supplying animal feed.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In March Tesco announced that they would give all their workers a 10% bonus on their hourly rate

Demand for its products jumped by 20% in March alone, which meant it needed to recruit 30 extra staff to cope.

Gillian McAuley, group HR director for Devenish, said that the company had to adapt its recruitment process in line with social distancing rules.

“We are being somewhat innovative in terms of using video conferencing and conducting socially-distanced training,” she said.

Image copyright Gillian McAuley
Image caption Gillian McAuley of Devenish says the business has had to adapt to a new way of recruitment

“We’re only bringing in small numbers of recruits at a time so we can keep them quite socially distanced while we induct them and train them.

“It has been a bit different than normal, but it is what needs to be done at this point in time.”

Zoom call smart?

For some businesses in Northern Ireland, the recruitment process has continued as normal.

Sinead Carville, chief human resources officer at FinTrU, said the financial services company’s academy was going to be delivered virtually for the first time since it began.

“We are in a very fortunate position in that our industry is still growing and we are still busy as an organisation and we still have a need to recruit,” she said.

Image copyright Sinead Carville
Image caption FinTrU’s Sinead Carville says new recruits have not been slacking on their appearance for video-link interviews

“We’re very cognisant that your first day in new employment and a new training programme can be in your kitchen or in your spare bedroom or wherever people end up having to work during this period.

“We’re trying to put in a lot of important touch points, create virtual opportunities for them to have a buddy or companion as they settle into their training and they further develop and they settle into the organisation.”

Old habits die hard, however, as interviewees have been making sure they are looking their best on camera.

“We have been really impressed with people,” said Ms Carville.

“Candidates have been putting on a suit and a tie and dressing up smartly and professionally.”,


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