Some Northland industries still hiring during time of record unemployment

Jobs remain unfilled in caregiving, delivery and retail fields

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Though Denfeld senior Victor Williams is disappointed the COVID-19 pandemic will cause him and his classmates to miss senior prom and walking at graduation, he's grateful to have the opportunity to work at Residential Services Inc. caring for elderly clients. (Tyler Schank /

When Simon Councillor recently lost his job at Panera due to the COVID-19 outbreak, he was scared.

“I barely had enough to feed myself and pay rent. So, I was like, ‘Oh God. I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ I thought unemployment is going to take way too long. So, I need to get a job immediately,” he said.

Councillor, 20, is among thousands of workers displaced since the pandemic began, prompting Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz to order restaurants, bars and all nonessential businesses to temporarily close their doors.

In the last week of March alone, nearly 110,000 Minnesotans filed unemployment claims. And nationwide, 6.6 million claims were filed — twice as many as the previous week.

In this bleak job market, however, there are still opportunities, said Elena Foshay, director of workforce development for the city of Duluth.


She noted that supermarkets and certain other large retail stores have been hiring. Foshay pointed to delivery, construction and medical fields as other places where more people continue to be needed.

Foshay also has observed encouraging collaboration. She said some local restaurateurs who have been forced to temporarily close have reached out to other employers in need of workers.

Boyd Hanson, human resources for Miner’s Inc., said Super One grocery stores have hired a number of former restaurant workers.

Foshay said people also are needed in caregiving roles.

Within three days of beginning his job search, Councillor landed a job as a direct support professional at Residential Services Inc., a nonprofit serving people with disabilities.

“Caregiving is a rewarding job. You’re actually going out there and helping people,” he said.

Victor Williams, a Denfeld High School senior, also recently got a job as a direct support professional at RSI.

“When everything started to happen with the pandemic and the economy kind of fell, I got really worried about how my mother was going to be able to handle all of the bills and everything by herself. So, I did what I could to find a job so I could help” he said.


Williams had just finished his third day on the job Thursday and said: “I’m very happy. I’m very lucky I feel to be able to pull in a job at a time like this, when there’s millions not working.”

He described his new job as “the best of both worlds” because it will allow him to make some money and also help people.

Williams said his mother works in the respiratory dialysis field and said he fears what would happen to his family, including a younger sister and brother, if she fell ill from COVID-19, as many other health care workers across the nation have. “We’d have to make some sacrifices just to keep afloat,” he said.

Many workers have had to shift gears because of the recent coronavirus pandemic.

Katy Augusta had been working at the Boathouse Restaurant until the recent downturn. When she lost that job, she successfully applied for a post as nursing aide in training at Aftenro, a Duluth senior care facility.

Augusta considers the job an excellent fit, especially as she had been training at Lake Superior College to become a certified nursing assistant until the pandemic interrupted her studies.

“Basically, I’m finishing up the skills that I would need to learn in class, but I’m also working,” she said.

Augusta believes the work will be fulfilling.


”With health care workers being on the front line, I feel really proud and honored to be doing something that serves my community, even though I’m not on the front line, so to speak. But eventually, I want to get into more of a nursing role,” she said.

Augusta admitted to being a bit nervous about the prospect of coming into contact with COVID-19 on the job but said: “I know that there’s always a risk every day when I go in. But when I look at these people, I think of my own parents.”

New Perspective Senior Living is hiring at a number of its properties, including facilities in Superior, Cloquet and Barnum, said Pam Engle, the company’s vice president of people and administration.

“We are in a growth industry, and we’re a growing company. So, to that extent, we are always hiring so to speak. We have had a few team members, certainly not the majority, but a few team members who for one reason or another aren’t comfortable coming to work in this COVID environment. But generally speaking, our team members are very dedicated to serving Betty and Bob,” she said, explaining those are names New Perspective uses to refer to its residents.

Engle said some other workers exposed to potentially sick family members or returning from travel to places where COVID-19 outbreaks had occurred have been required to take time off out of an abundance of caution.

“So there is some backfilling happening,” she said. “All of the jobs can be permanent, but we certainly understand that some folks might only be available temporarily while their regular job isn’t something they can do. We are welcoming both temporary and permanent employees.”

Engle said New Perspective rigorously screens its staff on an ongoing basis.

“Social distancing when you’re helping someone get dressed isn’t possible. You have to be closer than 6 feet to help them with some of the things we do with them,” she said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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