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Hiring, keeping staff the next battle for some Manitoba businesses hit hard by COVID-19

While most restrictions on personal services have been lifted, the road back from COVID-19 closures has not been easy for all business owners.

After COVID-19 forced businesses like spas and salons to shut their doors and lay off staff several times over the last year and a half, those businesses have seen growing demand with recent changes to public health orders.

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But now many say they’re facing a new problem — retaining qualified staff.

“We have splashed all over social media and trying to recruit new employees, (but) it’s been very, very difficult,” said Luca Macchia, a managing partner at AURA Hair Group and owner of AURA ST. Vital and Modern Man Barber Shop St. Vital.

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“We have we have a demand and we cannot fulfil that demand. So as a business owner and as a group … we’re a little frustrated.”

Aura Hair Group owns and operates 13 salons and barber shops in Winnipeg, and Macchia says because many of the shops are located in malls the businesses have been hit extra hard by restrictions limiting mall hours, even after rules for personal services were relaxed.

Over the pandemic he says hundreds of staff members were laid off between all 13 locations.

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And now that the shops are back in business, Macchia says there’s a number reasons some of those staff members have been hesitant to return.

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Some have child care and COVID-19 concerns, he says, some are only looking for part-time work, while others have decided to leave the industry all together, looking for more stability.

According to Statistics Canada AURA’s struggles aren’t unique.

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A recent survey looking at business conditions in the third quarter of 2021 shows more than 30 per cent of businesses expect to struggle with labour force shortages as the economy reopens, with quarter of the businesses calling the retention of staff their biggest hurdle.

It’s a similar situation at Winnipeg’s Spa Botanica, where co-owner Harmanpreet Kaur says every time they’ve had to close — three times since the pandemic hit Manitoba — they’ve lost staff.

That’s forced them into a routine of rehiring and training following every closure, something she says has left the spa struggling to keep up with the influx of customers that also comes following a lengthy closure.

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“It takes a good month and a half to train staff and by the time they are trained and good … then it shuts down again and we have to rehire again,” she said, adding it’s been hard to keep those new hires interested in coming back following shutdowns.

Like Macchia, Kaur says she’s hopeful there won’t be further shutdowns following this latest round of rehiring.

“It has been very challenging,” she said.

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“We just hired three new people and we are interviewing one more person and hopefully we wont get shut down again and hopefully all of them will stay with us — that will help us a lot.”

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A Statistics Canada jobs report released earlier this month showed Canada’s economy added 94,000 jobs in July as public health restrictions continued to be lifted.

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At the time, CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes said the increase continues a pattern begun with the 231,000 jobs added in June and can be considered a strong gain, making up for employment losses incurred during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even so, Mendes says the numbers may reflect labour shortages some employers have been reporting, and gains are likely to keep slowing.

— with files from Brittany Greenslade, Amy-Ellen Prentice and The Canadian Press

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© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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