August 31st, 2021 | Sterling

Retail Roundtable: Experts Share Insights on Thriving in a Transformed Talent Market

Earlier this year, Retail Insider wrote about a perplexing problem, noting that Canada’s retail industry has always faced fierce competition for talent. The current challenge—and one which we recently broached during a Sterling Backcheck retail roundtable—is that navigating the global pandemic has changed perceptions about work. When the pandemic began, thousands of workers across the retail industry saw jobs dry up as temporary furloughs turned into longer-term layoffs. Yet, even as many of the pandemic’s restrictions are being lifted, retail staffing hasn’t rebounded as quickly as expected. Where did the candidates go?

Retail Insider attributed the talent gap to several factors, saying, “Many employees have left the retail sector all together, either moving away from major urban centres or avoiding frontline positions due to anxieties over safety, health, and wellbeing. In addition to those concerns, the poor remuneration, lack of recognition and absence of career path are ongoing compounding effects.” To better understand how employers plan to attract talent in the face of this challenge, Sterling kicked off the roundtable with a discussion about talent supply. John Lee, Retail Industry Account Executive with Sterling Backcheck hosted the roundtable. Joining the conversation were:

  • Chantelle Painter, HR and Recruitment Engagement Manager at The Brick and a board member for the TALK Edmonton talent acquisition board
  • Rolando Lopez, Sr. Director of Talent Strategy for Loblaw Companies Ltd.
  • Vincenza Caruso-Valente, General Manager of Sterling’s Staffing, Retail, and Franchise group
  • Mark Sward, Vice President and Global Head of Privacy at Sterling

Adapting to the post pandemic hiring landscape & talent supply

With second vaccinations under way throughout Canada, the economy will likely reopen in time with the traditional surge in seasonal hiring to support back-to-school shoppers. During the roundtable, the panelists discussed the changes they are expecting or seeing in the talent supply today and how they are planning on managing these changes in that supply.

Chantelle weighed in first, admitting that the messages used to engage potential talent have changed significantly. With the reduction in talent available, employers need to establish clear commitments to the health and safety of employees—particularly important because the risk to front-line retail workers is one of the reasons the talent supply remains underwhelming, despite high unemployment levels. Chantelle noted that engagement strategies had to be overhauled dramatically in the past year, with more online engagement and community outreach to reach people where they are.

Rolando agreed, saying, “We’re already starting to see in terms of talent supply, even as the pandemic starts to subside, that there’s this war for talent. Statistically, it’s proven – there’s no way of getting around it.  There are a lot more people retiring than there are people entering the market.” He noted that the competition will continue to intensify, particularly with seasonal hiring on the rise. In fact, Rolando said, “We’re not just anticipating seasonal hiring. I think what we’re also anticipating that many people that we’ve hired that were on furlough or laid off from their original careers will begin to return to those industries.”

Showing candidates a commitment to safety enables recruiting

Individuals’ comfort levels with health and safety protocols vary, so Chantelle explained that from the start of the recruiting process, messaging on Covid safety remains a priority. In addition to communicating that the safety of customers and employees is a number one concern, Chantelle noted that the largely online hiring process is easing into a whole new approach to in-person interviews. The idea is to get people accustomed to what they might experience on a regular day while at work.  Safety measures like continued social distancing, hand sanitization stations and mask wearing are practiced, even if restrictions have been lifted in other environments or no longer required by different provincial legislation. Even the size of the interviewing room and how far candidates sit from recruiters during interviews matter.  She noted, “These visual cues reinforce our commitment to health and safety.” The bottom line: Candidates need to see employers walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Showing a commitment to safety is critically important. Rolando pointed out that 65% of retail storefront hiring involves youth— which means if parents don’t feel comfortable with their children working part time, retailers will lose out on a considerable sub-group of the workforce. As a result, he said, messaging on safety needs to appeal to parents as well. Integrating identify verification and background screening is not new to the hiring workflow, however, messaging on the process—and how it furthers safety for employees and customers alike—can also be a compelling point for parents.

Rolando called this approach, savvy sourcing, which is simply about following good marketing principles. “For us, it’s all about talent segmentation. Are you going on campus? Are you doing co-op hiring? Are you hiring students or targeting people who are graduating with advanced degrees?” By segmenting your target audiences, you can build out savvy sourcing plans to reach the candidates you want instead of relying on a one-size-fits-all approach.

Technology facilitates hiring in a competitive talent market

Technology was crucial when pandemic protocols went into effect. From applicant tracking systems and online background checks to virtual hiring events and Zoom interviews, the ability to shift existing processes to digital solutions expedited hiring despite the restrictions caused by COVID-19. But making sure the assets associated with these solutions were presented in plain language and keeping the process simple and seamless was also critical to success. Chantelle said, “Anybody using adaptive technology to access our information is able to actually consume it in the same way as somebody who can click on an icon.  The idea is to ensure that every touchpoint we have is designed to keep candidates engaged.  Technology, of course, needs to be backed up by live people, available to answer questions, conduct interviews and reach out to candidates wherever they are.”

Want even more insights into the retail talent market? Contact Us for more information.

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