SAINT JOHN – Shortly after Sears announced it was closing its contact centres in Saint John and Edmundston, along with its stores nationwide, ContactNB asked its member businesses if they would take part in a job fair for the people losing their jobs.
“There are great career opportunities in this industry,” said Cheryl Steadman, membership services lead at the professional association for the province’s contact centres. “There’s also a sense of community in the industry, especially amongst the members of the association. We’ve got this sense of connectedness where if one centre is in some trouble then the rest all jump in and say, ‘you know what? We’ve got positions available let’s go and help.’ ”
And so they did. With the assistance of Opportunities New Brunswick and Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, ContactNB organized a job fair October 25 that included 22 area businesses with more than 600 job openings. Most of the employers were contact centres (17) but there were also five businesses from other sectors, including large companies like J.D. Irving Limited and Irving Oil.
The fair took place in a vacant space in the Loch Lomond Mall, just down the hall from the now-closed Sears contact centre. The centre’s supervisors gave employees an extra half hour that day to attend the fair, and around 160 of them did.
“Several employees were hired on the spot,” said Steadman. “Another bunch were interviewed that day, people were looking for places to conduct interviews [on site]. And there were other [employers] scheduling interviews to meet with them in their offices.”
Steadman said the mood at the Sears centre in Saint John was much improved after the fair.
Apparently, the buzz in the Sears centre that day, and for the rest of that week, was so positive because everybody felt some sense of hope, that they either had something lined up or they’ve got interviews coming, or that they spoke with some really great companies,” said Steadman. “There was a feeling of optimism as a result.”
Steadman said people were understandably upset when the Sears centre announced it was closing. But she said there are plenty of open positions for the skilled, experienced employees who lost their jobs.
“It’s important to know the industry comes together when there is a need like that,” said Steadman. “And the need is on both sides. It’s not only for the people who are losing their jobs. There are a lot of employers that are looking for great candidates. There are jobs in the city and in the province … and there are some great, skilled employees there to be scooped up.”
Steadman said the contact centre industry has organized job fairs like this when other companies shut down in the past. They hosted one with 12 or 13 employers when Unilever closed in 2016, putting nearly 50 people out of work.
“[Businesses were] looking for good employees, good candidates,” said Steadman. “I think most of their employees were picked up.”
Many of them found jobs at Stafford Communications, which recently announced expansion plans for its Rothesay office.
ContactNB is also trying to help the 100 employees who lost their jobs in Edmundston.
“They’ve got this pool of bilingual people there,” said Steadman. “We asked our centres, ‘do you have work-from-home positions? Or ones that have enough appeal that they would move?’ We know a good number of employers were going to contact the [Sears] site manager up there to help out some of their folks as well.”
Steadman knows people are still hurting from the closure of the Sears centres, but she wants people to there’s a “good news story” here as well.
“Yes, it’s unfortunate that Sears is shutting down,” she said, “but we pulled together and we’re helping them get jobs.”