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Dale Martin, general manager and chief financial officer of CapsCanada Corp., pictured at his office in Tecumseh, Ont., on June 25, 2020.

Grant Black/The Globe and Mail

For some businesses, the pandemic caused demand for their products to plummet, while others experienced an unprecedented surge.

CapsCanada Corp., a producer of gelatin and cellulose-based capsules for the pharmaceutical and dietary-supplement markets, experienced both in rapid succession in recent weeks.

The company, based in Tecumseh, Ont., near Windsor, was forced to lay off some staff just before the pandemic, says Dale Martin, general manager and chief financial officer. He says there was a drop in demand for its products due to cheaper foreign products coming into Canada, which resulted in surplus inventory.

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Then the coronavirus hit, and the government shut the economy down almost overnight.

CapsCanada was temporarily closed. Then, after manufacturers were declared an essential service, the company worked with the Ministry of Labour and its union to ensure robust cleaning and return-to-work protocols and started bringing back its 150 employees.

But not everyone could come back to work. Many CapsCanada employees had to stay home to care for children who no longer had school or daycare, others were taking care of someone sick, and others were in self-quarantine due to potential exposure to COVID-19.

With borders closed, Canadian companies that needed capsules started looking for domestic instead of foreign suppliers. Demand for CapsCanada’s products jumped by about 50-to-75 per cent since March, Mr. Martin says.

Suddenly, CapsCanada was hiring staff – not laying them off.

In recent weeks, the company hired 40 people and is looking for 40 additional employees by the end of June.

“It’s just skyrocketing, the demand, to the point where we can’t run enough equipment to get enough product out the door. We’re in a back-order position and trying to hire employees and get more machines going,” Mr. Martin says. “We have the capacity; we just can’t get it running fast enough.”

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The situation tested the company’s human-resources department. CapsCanada turned to its supplier Ceridian, which provides the Dayforce human-capital management platform, to adjust its HR system to handle the rising demand – and all of the changing rules with new government programs.

Immediately, CapsCanada had to again issue records of employment to any staff that needed to file for additional employment-insurance benefits or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

“It was kind of a nightmare for about three weeks, changing records of employment (ROE) over and over,” Mr. Martin says. “I give credit to our payroll and HR department; they’re working very hard.”

“The Ceridian system helped us a lot in getting those [ROEs] out quickly,” he adds.

At the same time, there was a lot of turnover as some staff left and new staff were hired – some who stayed, some who didn’t – as the company ramped up production again.

“The biggest problem is getting people; it’s very difficult in our area,” Mr. Martin says.

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The relationship between CapsCanada and Ceridian has been key at this tumultuous point, says Chris Armstrong, Ceridian’s Minneapolis-based chief customer officer.

“In the case of CapsCanada, they’ve been very active with our support team … and it’s that equation of technology and support that has made it a successful relationship for both of us.”

CapsCanada turned to Ceridian’s support team to help them, using the Dayforce platform, to lay off staff initially, then to start bringing them back and quickly add new staff to the system, Mr. Armstrong says.

The platform is configurable “to allow for companies to deal with real complexity and specific requirements in a way that does not require heavy investment,” Mr. Armstrong says.

Ceridian also had to quickly change parts of its platform to match the needs laid out by government programs, he says.

“The pace of change was hourly,” Mr. Armstrong adds, and the company had to alter its platform “in real-time” – a matter of days instead of the usual time frame of weeks or months.

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They were able to adjust the Dayforce platform to efficiently handle the large volume of work at CapsCanada, Mr. Armstrong says. They also helped the company adjust its system to manage new schedules and shifts put in place because of the pandemic.

Ceridian’s software makes it easy to add and onboard new staff, which is a key efficiency when you’re on a hiring spree, Mr. Martin says. The system adds employee data, sets up payroll and benefits, tracks job progress, skills and training so employees can advance within the company, Mr. Martin says.

There has been a trend over the past decade of companies turning to more sophisticated HR platforms, says Khalid Hanif, a partner in workday practice and advisory with KPMG in Toronto.

Most HR systems focus on being “transactional,” he says, simply inputting data into a system to keep track of employees, payroll and benefits. But new, often cloud-based technologies are more tactical and aim to monitor each employee’s skills and knowledge base as well, he adds.

“The trend is really ‘how do I allow HR to be more strategic to the business and make better decisions to execute on the business strategy?’ versus just keeping track of employee data,” Mr. Hanif says.

“You’re very much at a disadvantage if you don’t invest in HR technology because you’re not really getting the insights and analytics that you need to effectively manage your employee base, to see what resonates with them,” Mr. Hanif says.

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CapsCanada is also looking to adopt other new technologies, including a new enterprise resource-planning system later this summer, as well as installing Microsoft’s cloud-based system Office 365 to provide virtual meetings and complete other tasks.

Mr. Martin is hoping some good for the company comes out of the pandemic.

“People are realizing that having an offshore supply of all of their products is not such a good idea,” he says, adding the company hopes that after the pandemic these new customers will stay with CapsCanada instead of returning to foreign suppliers.

“The pandemic has had a positive effect on our company because of what we do.”

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