Job Searching While Navigating COVID-19

Whether you are a student seeking a summer job or a new grad looking to start your career, these are uncharted waters. 

The anxiety is heightened–that’s to be expected–but your healthy and safety is the number one priority.

This blog is intended to make you feel better!

W all need the food industry to keep pushing on, pandemic or no pandemic, there is an expectation that the grocery store shelves are full and produce plentiful. 

Whose job is that?  The farmer, the truck drivers and the food processors. 

Without these ‘Food Heroes’ the system shuts down.  I suspect if you are reading this, you might be proudly adjusting your cape, about to join this essential group of awesome people.

You may have already had some work experience in a food environment before the pandemic, but what you need to know is (as you would expect) it’s not business as usual, the industry has jumped into action!

Changes food processors have made to keep people safe:

  • Eliminated all non essential visitors from the facility
  • Non essential office and support people work from home
  • Increased cleaning staff and added new tasks to clean and sanitize all high touch surfaces every 2 hours throughout the facility
  • Enforced distancing protocol, ensure staff keep 2m apart
  • Inserted plexiglass barriers to separate line staff in areas with close proximity
  • If space is limited the line speed is reduced to allow fewer people to work and maintain distancing
  • Non-medical face masks are allowed and provided for staff that wanted to wear them
  • Water coolers with disposable cups are placed throughout the facility to eliminate the use of the water fountains that require direct drinking
  • The attendance management program is suspended so people with any concerns can stay home
  • Daily check list for all staff asking if they had been out of the country, have come in contact with COVID effected individuals, have a family member awaiting test results from COVID testing, have experienced any of the COVID symptoms. If yes to any question, the individual is required to stay home for 14 days.
  • Floor markings to control direction and spacing in the punch clock areas
  • Gap created between shifts to eliminate congestion in change rooms and common areas at shift change.
  • The tables in the lunchroom moved and chairs removed to ensure appropriate distancing, break times adjusted to avoid too many people at any time in the lunchroom, boardroom opened up for breaks if lunchroom is at capacity.
  • Implemented a daily leadership review of COVID management processes and any feedback
  • Outside rest room for truck drivers to eliminate the need to use inside facilities and minimize contact
  • Face shields, gloves and masks made available for first aid staff in the event of a need to respond and be in close contact with a coworker
  • Take the temperature of all staff arriving at work
  • Ongoing analysis of all of the above, ready to make appropriate changes IMMEDIATELY to keep staff safe!

COVID specific questions to ask during the interview

Now you know what responsible food processing businesses have done to keep people safe, our advice would be to ask some questions to find out what the company has done you are interviewing with;

For example:

  1. Have you slowed the processing line to allow for less people on the line?
  2. Do you provide PPE for staff?
  3. I’ve heard some companies have been providing a survey to staff to keep on top of their concerns and to make any necessary changes.  Do you do this?

These are broad enough to allow the interviewer to explain what they have done, and with your prior knowledge of what could have been done based on the info above, gives you a sense of if you will feel safe and if you believe the organization prioritizes people (safety) over profits (production).

Our good friend Amy Proulx, Professor and Academic Program Coordinator of Culinary Innovation and Food Technology at Niagara College provided some insights that she shares with her students and new grads;

  • Getting to work 

You may have been hired into a job expecting to take transit to work. Are you able to safely take transit in your area?  Has transit scheduling changed where you are located? What options are possible to get you to work safely if things have changed? Were you anticipating being in a carpool to get to work?  Is there a way to use good hygiene practice and physical distancing while travelling?

  • Choosing the type of work you want

The hiring environment is very different than before.  You may be challenged to find the type of work you want or find employment at the company you had your hopes set on.  If you are going into a job that wasn’t your target field, are you in a work environment where human resources and your work supervisors know your interest in growing into more advanced technical or supervisory roles? 

Many food companies hire their advanced team internally from highly motivated operations workers.  Be open minded, communicate your career goals, and know that the food manufacturing sector has opportunities in many companies, so you may decide to switch employers after a fair time if there is no progress. 

For grads, I recommend putting in a year minimum, and start reflecting on career progress around 9 months time – Amy Proulx

  • To work or take Emergency Relief funding?

Risk assessment is a complex topic.  No one knows the risks in your own life and your family life, except for you.  For some people, the cost of going to work at this time (emotionally, financially and physically) may be greater than the compensation, especially for junior level workers.  But it is anticipated that this pandemic will be better managed in due course, and individuals who jumped at opportunity will potentially be ahead in career progression.  This is all a calculated risk, and there is no right or wrong answer. 

Do you have any questions related to your job search, employers in the industry or COVID-19?

More info on how CFIA wants establishments to manage COVID in the workplace click here.

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