Fear of contracting COVID-19 is believed to be the main reason for a lower than normal number of job seekers using the Employment Services Centre (CSEPR) in Hawkesbury.

The centre currently has more than 300 positions listed on its job bank – about normal for this time of year – however the number of people using the CSEPR’s services is significantly lower than in normal times. The lack of demand has been a surprise to the centre’s job placement agents, who were expecting to receive a steady stream of applicants given the pandemic has driven Canada’s overall unemployment rate to record-high levels.

“(Applications) have not picked up as we expected,” said CSEPR Communications Agent Carole Muise, who noted the centre reopened on June 29 after being shut down since March 13. “Employers need the employees, but we just don’t have the job seekers we thought we would have with the unemployment level having risen so high.”

In order to continue assisting clients both during and after the shut down, the employment centre has turned to online tools – using such things as Zoom conferences to hold meetings with staff and job seekers and acquiring several Chromebooks, which can be loaned out to individuals who do not own a computer. However even with the extra tools and the CSEPR offices back open to the public, applications remain below normal levels and staff at the centre attribute the low number of people looking for work to fear of COVID-19.

“Some of them are scared, even though there are lots of measures being taken to protect employees,” Muise said, noting the emergency funds provided by the federal government to those who lost their jobs also has reduced the urgency of finding employment. “We do understand that people feel scared, because at one point it was really scary, but now for the economy to pick up employees need to go back to work.”

With the offices now open, CSEPR clients can now resume visits and use the resource centre’s job boards, computers and other services, while following strict social distancing guidelines and protective measures. A limited number of visitors is allowed at one time and staff has been reduced from normal levels, however the entire CSEPR team is teleworking and available for guidance. Direct interaction with employment counsellors is being done via online virtual meetings.

“We did need to change the way we were interacting with our customers, so the virtual aspect is continuing,” said Muise, who added meeting with the employment counsellors remotely helps prospective employees prepare for job interviews. “It’s difficult to meet with employers with the two-metres, masks and stuff, so by working with our clients virtually it gives them the ability to get used to interviews online – in a way it’s a good thing coming out of a bad situation.”

While the virtual tools being used were developed to deal with social distancing requirements, both employers and job seekers should benefit long term from their use. Virtual interviews in particular allows businesses to speak with potential employees no matter where they are located.

“We used to do recruitment days and obviously at those we were looking for people in the Prescott-Russell area, but now if you have the virtual side you can attract people (from other regions), so it opens up different perspectives for our community,” Muise enthused.

While the number of positions available in the resource centre’s job bank is about normal for this time of year, there has been a shift in the type of positions available. There is significant demand for medical staff, personal care workers, and front-line employees in grocery and department stores.

“Because of COVID, the work market has shifted,” Muise observed. “Obviously health care is really in big need and the types of jobs have been shifted, because now essential workers are (positions such as) clerks in food stores.”

The CSEPR recommends anyone looking for work contact the employment centre by phone at 1-800-668-5950, or via email at [email protected]. You can also visit their website. Job seekers will be paired with an employment counsellor, who can help them in their search.

“Our placement agents know the hidden market,” Muise noted. “Sometimes you might be looking for a job that is not posted, but depending upon your qualifications, we might know an employer who is looking for someone like you.”