Construction on a new 430,000 square foot fulfillment centre for Walmart Canada is well underway north of Calgary.
The big box retailer has invested $118 million into the facility, which is set to be a delivery hub for the company’s online orders in western Canada.
According to company officials, the high-tech facility will use robotic technology from GreyOrange in an effort to help associates with the selection and sorting of more than 500,000 items.
“Customers will see better selection, better product availability and quick service whether they choose to shop in-store or online,” Walmart Canada CEO Horacio Barbeito told a crowd at the unveiling of the structure on Monday.
According to Barbeito, the pandemic has accelerated growth of its online platform to levels the company wasn’t expecting to see until at least 2024.
The facility is being built in the High Plains Industrial Park near Balzac, Alta., and is expected to process and deliver 20 million items per year.
“This is part of the momentum we’re seeing in Alberta’s economic recovery,” Premier Jason Kenney said. “As Alberta led Canada in economic growth last year, we are leading Canada in economic growth this year.”
Walmart Canada said the facility will create 325 new jobs once it opens in the fall.
But officials said filling those jobs can be a challenge, given a labour shortage currently being experienced in Alberta and across the country.
“Logistics associates throughout Canada, it’s been a challenge, because the entry-level average age is about 32,” Barbeito said.
But Walmart isn’t alone in their effort to fill jobs and experts tell Global News there are labour shortages across several sectors.
According to Heather Thomson, executive director at the Alberta School of Business Centre for Cities and Communities, the shortage is partly a symptom of the disruption to jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we start to restart the economy, we’re starting to see a lot of people not come back to the jobs that they were in the before the pandemic,” Thomson said. “While the unemployment rate is continuing to decrease, there is a labor shortage around especially in Alberta.”
The shortage of labour is creating both more options for job-seekers as well as a more competitive environment for employers, Thomson said, which is forcing employers to market new positions.
Lowe’s Canada is hosting a three-day hiring event at the end of the month across Alberta, to try and fill around 240 positions in the Calgary area.
The initiative is part of a campaign to hire 5,000 part-time and full-time employees nationwide ahead of peak demand at Lowe’s stores in the spring and summer.
“We’re using different strategies to make sure that we’re really hitting every piece of the population that we’re looking for,” Lowe’s Canada national talent acquisition director Nadine Chiasson told Global News. “You don’t need experience to come and work for us and can start at a very young age… we’re also really targeting second career or retirees to come and join our stores.”
The labour shortage is one piece of an ongoing supply chain crunch, which has been compounded by the CP Rail strike.
Barbeito said Walmart has contingency plans in place to keep costs low for customers.
Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer said the shortage in the workforce isn’t an issue exclusive to Alberta, but the province is making an effort to address it.
“It’s one of the reason we put $600 million in our most recent budget into workforce, skills and labour attraction to Alberta,” Schweitzer said. “The federal government is planning on bringing in one million immigrants to Canada in the next three years as well, and we want to make sure they come here to Alberta.”
Walmart’s new facility will add to the four distribution centres the company has already in Alberta.
The company also has 61 stores in the province employing more than 16,000 employees.