As Walmart, CVS and Domino's race to keep up with demand, they have a new challenge: Hiring during a pandemic

Key Points
  • Grocery stores and pharmacy chains are tapping into a pool of candidates that have been furloughed or laid off in the restaurant and hotel industries.
  • Walmart is using higher wages, referral bonuses and an expedited hiring process to try to fill about 150,000 jobs.
  • Grocery chain Save A Lot is trying to put potential job candidates at ease by providing free gloves for employees, using floor markers to encourage social distancing and considering protective shields like sneeze guards in cashier areas.
A help wanted sign is displayed in the window of a Brooklyn, New York business.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

From delivering pizzas and prescriptions to packing up boxes with online purchases, Walmart, Amazon, CVS Health, Domino's and other companies are racing to keep up with customer demand as coronavirus cases rise across the U.S.

Now, those companies face a new challenge: How to hire and train thousands of employees during a global pandemic.

The grocery stores, pharmacy chains and food delivery businesses are using creative approaches to find candidates, skip time-consuming paperwork and speed up training. CVS said it will find the candidates through virtual career fairs and vet them with virtual interviews. Walmart said it's shortened its hiring process from weeks to hours. And some pizza chains and grocery stores, such as Save A Lot, are asking people to send a text message if they're interested in a job.

Companies are also hiring from a growing pool of people who have lost jobs or been furloughed as the spread of the coronavirus halts travel and shuts down restaurants and hotels.

"We are attracting talented, but displaced workers from these industries into our network to help us," said Reid Tuenge, senior vice president of retail operations at Save a Lot. The grocery chain plans to hire as many as 1,000 temporary employees across its 400 company-owned stores and 14 distribution centers.

Many of the jobs being offered by Save a Lot and others are temporary and aimed at meeting a surge in demand. However, companies may have lost employees who couldn't find adequate child care or for other personal reasons. Some companies say there are chances some of these jobs will become permanent. 

On Monday, Hilton launched a website to connect its people with more than 350,000 opportunities at companies, including CVS, Walgreens, Publix, Giant Eagle and 7-Eleven. In some cases, Hilton employees can be fast-tracked since they can skip a redundant background check or paperwork, Hilton spokeswoman Alison Menon said.

Some employers may have to be even more persuasive, as they seek applicants for people-centric roles like cashiers or food delivery in a time of social distancing.

Tuenge of Save a Lot said the grocer is trying to ease apprehension with thorough store cleanings, plentiful hand sanitizer and free gloves. He said the chain is also evaluating protective shields — similar to a sneeze guard — that it may install between cashiers and customers. It plans to put markers on the floor to encourage customers to keep six feet of distance between one another and employees who are stocking shelves. 

But he said stores have not had trouble finding job candidates. This past week alone, he said Save a Lot received about 2,500 applications. That's a 300% increase from a typical week.

Walmart and Amazon have some of the most aggressive hiring goals. Walmart plans to hire 150,000 employees at stores, clubs, distribution and fulfillment centers through the end of May. Amazon plans to hire 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers. The company raised pay for warehouse and delivery workers by $2 per hour in the U.S through the end of April.

To speed up hiring, Walmart spokeswoman Robyn Babbitt said the company has shortened a two-week hiring process to 24 hours. Job candidates can apply online or simply send a text message. Store managers call applicants to screen them and if they meet expectations, the managers make a verbal offer on the phone.

She said the company has eliminated formal interviews and written job offers. Now, the candidate gets a confirmation email and background check details after they get that verbal offer. 

Walmart is using wage hikes and referral bonuses to try to find workers for fulfillment centers, large warehouses where it boxes and ships customers' online purchases. Fulfillment center employees will get paid between $15 and $19 an hour at the facilities —  $2 per hour more than usual — through Memorial Day. If an employee refers a new hire to their fulfillment center, the employee and the new hire each receive a $250 bonus.

At CVS, the company expects to fill many of its open jobs with employees from Hilton Worldwide and Marriott International, two clients that have furloughed tens of thousands of employees. CVS spokesman T.J. Crawford said it's swapped in-person manager interviews with short phone calls with human resources staff. 

The pharmacy chain plans to hire 50,000 employees. That's a nearly 17% increase in its approximately 300,000-person workforce. The roles are a mix of temporary, part-time and full-time jobs from store associates to home delivery drivers.

Pizza chains and food delivery companies are adding workers as customers opt to stay at home and government officials ban dine-in service.

Instacart said Monday that it plans to add 300,000 shoppers — which are independent contractors — over the next 3 months to meet customer demand for online grocery delivery. The company said in a news release that average customer basket size has increased by 15% and order volume has grown by more than 150% year-over-year.

Domino's expects to hire about 10,000 employees in the U.S., including delivery drivers, pizza makers and store managers. Papa John's is aiming to hire 20,000 employees, while Yum Brands' Pizza Hut is looking for 30,000.

Domino's has shared best practices with franchisees, such as using text messaging to connect with applicants, spokeswoman Jenny Fouracre-Petko said.

She said Domino's company-operated restaurants will use video chats like FaceTime to interview candidates when possible. If a candidate doesn't have access to technology, some locations may have to conduct in-person interviews. In that case, only the hiring manager will meet the candidate, and handshaking will be avoided. The interview will take place in the lobby, which is sanitized before and after. Applicants will not receive a tour of the location.

And some steps of the process — such as checking a driver's record — can't be fast-tracked.

Pizza chains' new approach of contactless delivery could appeal to prospective employees, as well as customers. Instead of handing food to a customer, many companies are asking delivery people to drop the food by the door, walk back six feet and wait for the person to pick it up.

CNBC's Amelia Lucas contributed to this story

Papa John's CEO: We are hiring right now, implementing contactless delivery
Papa John's CEO: We are hiring right now, implementing contactless delivery