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Coronavirus Kent: New jobs created as economy adapts to the Covid-19 crisis

Hour by hour, day by day, the coronavirus crisis is remaking our economy in ways that would have seemed unimaginable just weeks ago.

The lockdown imposed in a bid to halt the spread of the pandemic has been devastating for many sectors of the Kent economy, with hospitality, tourism and the ranks of the self-employed particularly badly hit.

Supermarkets are recruiting extra staff to meet increased demand from shoppers amid the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Supermarkets are recruiting extra staff to meet increased demand from shoppers amid the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Barry Goodwin

But while the economic news has been dark for many, in other areas businesses are launching huge recruitment drives to enlist an army of workers to meet the challenges posed by these unprecedented times.

The government's job vacancy site currently lists more than 2,700 open roles in Kent, with more than 1,100 of those posted in the last two weeks. However these numbers have declined since the crisis began, as a number of businesses have put recruitment for permanent roles on hold for now.

Supermarkets have found themselves on the frontline of this crisis, with shoppers clearing shelves of essential goods as quickly as the logistics industry and its just-in-time supply chains can manage to restock them.

Co-op Food, which operates around 130 stores right across Kent, has created more than 350 temporary jobs in the county as part of a drive to add 5,000 people to its workforce nationally in a bid to keep up with increased consumer demand.

Jo Whitfield, chief executive of Co-op Food, said: "We asked members of the British public who needed jobs to come forward and join forces with us. The response has been overwhelming as people pull together to feed the nation. All of our colleagues are heroes and are doing an amazing job under huge pressure."

Tesco has announced a nationwide hiring effort to recruit an extra 20,000 staff to meet the sudden spike in demand for food and household products. The process for applicants has been streamlined, so the grocery giant hopes to be able to get jobseekers in for interviews and process their applications in a single day.

Wages being offered to new recruits at a number of businesses which have been hiring during the coronavirus crisis
Wages being offered to new recruits at a number of businesses which have been hiring during the coronavirus crisis

Other food retailers currently recruiting new staff include Aldi, Iceland and Waitrose, while meal delivery services such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo are also hiring riders to bring meals direct to the doors of those staying home and practising social distancing. Sainsbury's says it is currently working to reallocate staff from closed Argos outlets to its supermarkets.

Across the Garden of England, firms in the agricultural sector are also crying out for new workers to come forward amid fears that the coming fruit harvest could be impacted by the crisis.

Winterwood Farms - which packs produce destined for UK supermarkets at its base in East Sutton near Maidstone - used a post on its Facebook page to appeal for those looking for work to get in touch. It has managed to recruit around 30 new workers, many of whom were seeking work after losing roles in our parts of the Kent economy since the crisis began.

British Summer Fruits (BSF), the industry body representing 95% of all British-grown berries purchased by the country’s supermarkets and retailers, has launched a recruitment website it hopes will bring in the workforce necessary to keep produce moving from farm to table.

Nick Marston, chairman of BSF, said: "We are pleased to launch our recruitment drive to encourage those who may be looking for work as a result of the business impact of Covid-19 to apply to work on our berry farms this summer. There are jobs available at farms up and down the country with a large number of farms in the Kent area."

Nick Marston is the chairman of British Summer Fruits, the trade body representing the fruit industry in the UK
Nick Marston is the chairman of British Summer Fruits, the trade body representing the fruit industry in the UK

There are challenges in the recruitment business because of coronavirus, and some recruiters are facing furlough, but those looking for work are being urged to stay positive as there are still roles out there.

Sarah Gilbertson, a director at Netbox Recruitment which is based in Ryarsh, struck a note of cautious optimism, pointing to industries such as manufacturing, logistics and distribution where there are still positions up for grabs.

She said: "We are trying to be as positive as possible, but we have seen a huge impact on permanent vacancies being put on hold. But we have got clients who are still recruiting and are adapting, and there is going to be talent out there."

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