Grocers, delivery services scramble to hire thousands of workers to help with a crush of business driven by the coronavirus

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CHICAGO – As the city came to a standstill in an effort to contain the new coronavirus, many of David Falato’s employees chose to stay home.

Falato co-owns five Jet’s Pizza franchises in Chicago. He sympathizes with his employees, who can return to work once they’re comfortable doing so, but with business still strong as customers stay home and order takeout, Falato was in need of help quick.

“At each store I lost about 20% of the staff in the past week,” Falato said. “I need cashiers, line cooks and drivers to continue to operate.”

On Thursday, Falato, who is recruiting about 20 workers, said he hired five drivers as pizza orders continued to roll in.

Falato isn’t alone. Certain types of businesses – especially grocers and delivery services – are rushing to hire thousands of workers to handle a crush of business related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Mariano’s, Jewel-Osco, Walmart, Amazon and Domino’s Pizza have all embarked on hiring sprees to keep up with demand.

Mariano’s is looking to hire 500 employees to fill full- and part-time roles as cashiers, baggers, bakers and overnight restockers.

“I think every position is valuable right now. We want to make sure every customer has what they need,” said Amanda Puck, Mariano’s director of strategic brand development.

“We’ve always had a need. … But now it’s amped up with the current situation,” Puck said of the job openings.

Puck said Mariano’s is hiring immediately. “We have a team at the stores facilitating interviews.”

Other retailers are aggressively looking for help as well.

Amazon is looking to hire about 100,000 full- and part-time warehouse and delivery workers across the U.S. And Walmart announced plans to hire 150,000 new associates through the end of May to work in its stores, clubs, distribution centers and fulfillment centers across the country.

Across the country, governors and mayors have ordered all restaurants and bars to close to dine-in customers but allowed carryout and delivery services through March 30. Schools have had to shut down as well. As families and residents adjust to life at home and delivery options become more popular, the employment needs of companies are changing.

“There is a shift in the business model. There is more off-site consumption and purchases being done. People aren’t going to restaurants. Now, businesses need to provide takeout services,” said Alexander Chernev, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Chernev said consumers have had to adjust how they obtain goods and services as states order certain businesses closed because of the coronavirus. For restaurants, that has meant needing more delivery food drivers, Chernev said.

“For companies that are not set up for this model, they will have to learn how to transition quickly,” Chernev said.

Another challenge businesses face is training, Chernev said. Employers will have a short window to hire and train new employees before they have to start working.

The companies that are hiring also won’t have enough openings to absorb all the individuals who have been furloughed or seen their hours cut in another industry, said Andy Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based employment consultancy firm.

“Job loss outweighs demand. … People are looking for where there are openings now, like convenience stores, grocery stores and in health care. And you will start to see those few jobs become competitive,” Challenger said.

In fact, tens of thousands of Illinoisans have already applied for unemployment benefits as workplaces shutdown or minimize operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state’s Department of Employment Security said more than 64,000 residents submitted unemployment claims to the state from Monday through Wednesday of this week.

“The longer the crisis extends, the worse it will be. We’ve had this first wave, but when people get laid off that means they have less money to spend. And it affects companies because they’ll have less business. It can be a vicious cycle,” Challenger said.

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