As Amazon prepares for its island warehouse, it is looking for couriers in a tight job market

The online retail giant is preparing to open its last mile distribution center at Victoria International Airport, likely in early October. The delivery contractor aims to recruit Ukrainian refugees as couriers.

Amazon-branded delivery trucks will soon be seen everywhere throughout the metropolitan area as the online retail giant prepares to open its last-mile distribution center at Victoria International Airport.

Ken Mayes’ company, Zenzen Logistics Canada, is one of two courier companies that Amazon has contracted to operate about 120 vehicles that will move packages and parcels from the warehouse to homes and businesses in Greater Victoria and the island.

The unbranded courier company based in Nanaimo will handle larger parcels weighing more than 40kg.

Mays said he understands that hiring hundreds of drivers will be difficult amid a tight labor market in the region, where unemployment remains one of the lowest in the country at 4.9% last month and companies struggle to fill all kinds of jobs.

“It’s going to be very difficult because of the job market,” Mays said.

But he said the company will aggressively promote leadership and job opportunities in the coming weeks and months through job fairs and advertisements.

Positions are open to anyone over the age of 21 holding a Class 5 driver’s license.

Zenzen Logistics drivers will earn at least $21 an hour and have access to a health plan. Pay rate is under review by Amazon. Amazon offers American employees health care packages and tuition reimbursement programs.

Amazon’s $65 million distribution center is known as the “last mile” sorting and shipping facility, where everything ordered from the island arrives there and is delivered by several courier companies.

The 115,000 square foot building is located on 7.8 acres of land owned by the Victoria Airport Authority and was built by Edmonton-based York Realty.

Amazon hasn’t revealed details of the official opening, but sources say it’s likely to be October 5. The company has been advertising dozens of jobs for several weeks. The messages were not immediately returned to regional Amazon executives.

Mays said that due to the low unemployment rate, ZenZenLogistics is interested in targeting Ukrainian refugees for leadership positions. He said GPS systems would make it easier for newcomers to navigate the city, even though they must hold a Class 5 BC driver’s license.

So far, many Ukrainian refugees on the island have not received licenses, according to Devon Goldy, head of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre.

Goldie said the center has received more than 500 refugees from the war-torn country, and another 200 have arrived on the island through family, friends or any other means.

Goldie said refugees who are fluent in English would have no problem getting a learner’s permit or driver’s licence, but it would take time. “It’s a difficult process” for most people, she said.

The learner part of the test is not available in Ukrainian; It is in Russian. She said Google translations, however, are not always accurate and cause confusion.

“When it comes time to take the road test, it has to be in English, and there is no option to use an in-car translator,” Goldie said. “This is the biggest challenge.”

Goldie said that some refugees with little command of English were able to secure jobs in housekeeping, entry-level construction jobs, and backroom storage jobs at grocery stores.

However, others who have English have been employed in government, technology and law offices and in post-secondary institutions.

Al-Hashem, president and CEO of Maximum Express Courier, Freight and Logistics in Victoria, said Amazon’s fleet will face challenges hiring drivers.

Hashem said his company has delivered Amazon packages as a third party for streams from courier companies like Purollater and FedEx, but is sticking with its local customers. That way, the company can only operate on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., providing its drivers with decent hours — and better salaries at around $23 an hour.

These working conditions allowed Hashem to retain drivers an average of 12 to 13 years. “It’s very difficult to get good drivers – anyone these days,” he said.

Hashem said he has dropped four drivers due to recent COVID-19 cases, and had to pull drivers from the family’s Vancouver operations to cover the Victoria area. He said, “I’ve been in business since 1987 and have seen a lot of ups and downs in hiring…This is definitely downtime.”

Hashem said employees “want a life,” meaning fair hours and above-average wages.

Mayes set up an Amazon courier system in the Winnipeg area and returned to Victoria with Zzenzen Logistics. Owning yoga studios in Victoria for over two decades, he said he wanted to create an “inclusive” and respectful workplace with his delivery company.

“I think most people, despite the importance of wages, would like to work in a place that has a culture of respect and flexibility,” Mays said, noting that this could include things like tuition support and health benefit packages that include drug reimbursement costs, care and orthopedic column spine.

“We are going to hire 130 people here in Victoria and want a range of ages, genders and religions in our workforce.

“For many drivers, especially newcomers, they can work in neighborhoods that are near the road and really get to know the people who live there and do business there.”

Mays estimates that his fleet of 12-foot Ford Transit 250 trucks will deliver between 4,000 and 7,000 packages per day, with peak times being the Christmas season.

go to the zenzenlogistics.com for more information.

dkloster@timescolonist.com