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With traditional recruitment practices disrupted by the pandemic, some Canadian employers have tested a new concept: the drive-through job fair.

In New Brunswick, 85 candidates rolled down their windows and applied for jobs at Cooke Aquaculture Inc. this fall without getting out of their vehicles. The event was held outdoors, with masked human resources employees conducting interviews from a safe distance. So far, the company has hired 20 of those applicants for full-time work at its Atlantic fish farming operations.

“There is nothing like being able to talk to a potential new employee face to face, even if it is two metres apart,” says Cooke Aquaculture vice-president Joel Richardson, head of public and government relations at the global seafood firm based in Blacks Harbour, N.B.

In Medicine Hat, Alta., the site of a former car dealership was converted into a drive-through recruitment venue for two days in mid-October. Borea Construction was there looking for 100 people to build and install solar energy projects in the nearby communities of Jenner, Hays and Tilley.

“Of the 280 people who attended, we found that 60 were an absolute ‘Yes’ and we called them the next day,” Abby Clissold, a talent adviser with Borea, said. The company subsequently followed up with other strong candidates. “We did really great in terms of finding the talent. I think we found enough people that we need on our projects,” she said.

Along similar lines, Walmart Canada held a parking-lot event on Nov. 5 to meet an immediate need for 100 additional employees at its regional distribution centre in Mississauga. The company is in the midst of a spree to hire more than 10,000 new employees Canada-wide.

“We accelerated the hiring process [in Mississauga] and moved it outside to be as safe as possible, respecting capacity limits and safety protocols,” corporate affairs director Adam Grachnik said in an e-mail. Applicants parked and waited their turn to enter the tents Walmart had set up for interviews.

“Each candidate went through a wellness check when they arrived, they followed physical distancing and were asked to wear a mask (we provided masks to those that did not have one) ... There was hand sanitizer on site and each candidate was given their own pen in an effort to reduce touch points,” Mr. Grachnik wrote.

As the pandemic drags on, the emergence of drive-through and drive-in job fairs is a sign of the times. Many employers and job-seekers, frustrated by the limitations of remote hiring and video interviews, miss the one-on-one contact, says Jodie Engbert, manager of the Medicine Hat YMCA employment centre.

Ms. Clissold said it is difficult to determine from a video conference whether a candidate has the right stuff for the rugged outdoor work required at Borea’s solar energy and wind farm projects. Remote recruitment also disadvantages qualified candidates who do not have access to technology, she said.

So Borea leapt at the opportunity to participate in Medicine Hat’s first drive-through job fair. There are six more planned. “We were more than happy to be their guinea pig.”

In New Brunswick, Cooke Aquaculture has now held four such events at various locations in Saint John and St. Stephen. “At any given time, our operations in Atlantic Canada typically have about 100 vacant positions ... In this day and age, you almost have to go to where the people are to be able to attract them and talk to them about job opportunities,” Mr. Richardson said.

The YMCA collaborated with labour specialists at the government of Alberta and Medicine Hat College to come up with the COVID-19-era career fair concept, Ms. Engbert said.

The initiative has been enthusiastically embraced by the community, which was already reeling for layoffs in the oil and gas sectors before the pandemic hit, said Shelly Drefs, who has co-ordinated campus job fairs at Medicine Hat College for the past 14 years. This year’s fair was cancelled.

Local real estate agents scouted for suitable locations with enough room to accommodate the caravan of cars and trucks, Ms. Drefs said. Two area businesses donated 100 pylons so organizers could space out the vehicles. Students in the college’s criminal justice program volunteered to direct traffic.

Ms. Drefs had the chance to talk to several job-seekers as they proceeded through various stages of the interview process. With so many people looking for work, they were grateful for the opportunity to apply in person. “They weren’t sure how to get noticed in a pile of resumes. This [event] gave a lot of them a lot more hope.”

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