COVID-19 has brought a slew of words and phrases into our everyday vocabulary—social distancing, contact tracing, essential workers, herd immunity, lockdown and mask etiquette–to name just a few. Now, the virus is responsible for the introduction of several new job titles: temperature checkers, contact tracers, safety officers, even pandemic preparedness officers. Staffing professionals are seeing a burgeoning demand for these and other newly created positions, as businesses strategize to bring employees back into the workplace while mitigating the chances of a facility-based outbreak.
In New York City, Melissa Monteiro, regional managing director for staffing firm Atrium, has received an influx of requests for such COVID-related roles and has staffed a number of temperature scanner jobs already. She believes employers in the New York/New Jersey area are ahead of the curve in their “post-return preparedness” because they were hit earlier and much harder than other states.
Awareness of the need for such positions isn’t limited to the East Coast. New York-based TemPositions Group of Companies recently polled attendees of its Worksite Health and Safety webinars on their likelihood to hire for new pandemic-related positions. The majority of respondents said they plan to hire temperature scanners, while others indicated the need for safety consultants to help them keep up with the latest guidance from the U.S. government and other sources, according to James Essey, chief executive officer of TemPositions and a member of the American Staffing Association board of directors.
Individuals with previous healthcare experience are ideal candidates for these types of positions, says Monteiro, but HR must look past the resume, no matter how impressive, to ensure a potential new hire also possesses a number of soft skills that will make them effective in these new roles.
“Organizations should be looking for people who are active listeners, naturally curious and inquisitive, detailed-oriented, relatable and trustworthy, and who display empathy and compassion toward others, while upholding really strong discretion and confidentiality,” says Monteiro. “It’s a very sensitive topic, so it has to be someone who can naturally and effectively communicate and build trust.”
Across the country, doctors, nurses and other health professionals remain in high demand as COVID-19 cases continue to soar. That leaves employers and staffing firms to get creative to fill these positions. According to Stephen Dwyer, chief operating officer for the Alexandria, Va.-based American Staffing Association, some firms have recruited school nurses, displaced from their jobs when lockdown orders went into effect, to serve as temperature takers. Substitute teachers and customer service representatives also make for a ready labor pool, particularly for jobs like social distancing monitors that don’t require a medical or safety background, he says.
“You see a lot of this going on where you take workers with great skills who might not be having the opportunities they had pre-pandemic and place them in settings where they can apply their skills in new ways,” says Dwyer. “They just need to understand the employer’s policies and have a talent and a skill for interacting with people in a way that allows them to ensure those protocols are maintained.”
While HR certainly has a role to play in preparing for these new roles, they should avoid the temptation to take on some of these duties themselves, says Keca Ward, global senior director of talent experience at Phenom, a Horsham, Pa.-based global HR technology company.
“When we think about the practices that are going to have to be put into place, we are not going to want our internal HR departments to be the ones policing those,” says Ward. “Privacy comes into play because we are collecting medical information, even if it’s just a simple temperature check. We also have to maintain privacy with positive test cases of COVID-19, which could be a challenge.”
In the near-term, Ward expects companies to rely heavily on staffing firms, independent contractors and gig workers, as they seek to provide workers with an assurance of confidentiality. Should any of these positions become long-term, however, she anticipates organizations will look to recruit individuals with a safety or OSHA background. Just how long organizations will need the full complement of COVID-related workers remains to be seen.
“It all depends on the availability of a vaccine and its efficacy,” says Dwyer. “If a vaccine comes out that’s 55% effective, many of these roles will continue indefinitely. If a vaccine has much greater efficacy and comes out sooner rather than later, it changes the dynamic.”