As employers struggle to fill roles, Park City Chamber/Bureau provides job fairs
‘I don’t remember it being this difficult finding people’
April 28, 2017
Park City's shoulder season is in full swing, granting a brief reprieve from the crowds that surged into town during the winter. But for businesses, that means one thing: It's time to find workers for the quickly approaching summer season.
These days, that's easier said than done. It's long been difficult for employers in Park City to find enough workers, but Alison Kuhlow, vice president of member services for the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said the issue has become exacerbated over the last three years. Problems such as a lack of affordable housing have minimized the local employment base, and a soaring economy has shrunk the unemployment rate, making it tougher to draw workers from outside the Wasatch Back.
Given that, the Chamber/Bureau is working on a number of initiatives aimed at helping its member businesses find enough workers to get through the summer, which doesn't bring the crowds quite like winter but continues to grow into a major visitation period. The most visible is a pair of job fairs. The first was held Wednesday at the Utah Valley University Wasatch campus in Heber City, and the second is scheduled for Thursday, May 4, at the Wasatch Brew Pub in Sugar House.
"We thought we'd be hitting our two markets, as far as where we draw our employees from," Kuhlow said. "We wanted to essentially come to them and make this as easy as possible for our employers to find employees."
She added that the job fairs are proving to be crucial for businesses.
"They're not just filling life guard jobs or landscaping jobs," she said. "They're filling key positions, whether they be maintenance, housekeeping, front desk staff. And a lot of the positions aren't just to gear up for summer operations — it's just to staff for their normal year-round operation."
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One company relying on the fairs is Resort Retailers, which owns nine 7-Eleven convenience stores in Summit and Wasatch counties. Melody Guerrero, the company's human resources manager, said the lack of employees is becoming a crisis. The stores are operating on "skeleton crews," which in turn makes it even harder for managers to find time to go out and recruit workers.
Guerrero describes it as a vicious catch-22.
"It's been really hard," she said. "In fact, I've been with company for 22 years, and I don't remember it being this difficult finding people."
To combat the situation, Resort Retailers has been forced to increase the starting wage for employees to $11 an hour. Kuhlow said many other businesses have done the same thing in order to lure workers from the Wasatch Front.
"If someone had the opportunity to work in Salt Lake or choose a job in Park City, there needs to be a difference," she said. "With that drive up the canyon, a lot of times we're finding the businesses here in Park City need to pay more."
In addition to the job fairs, the Chamber/Bureau offers classes aimed at teaching businesses strategies to find employees. The organization is also participating in discussions with city and county officials about addressing transportation issues and the affordable housing problem.
Kuhlow, for one, is hopeful the efforts will eventually make it easier for working-class people to live in Park City, easing the burden on employers. But she's realistic about the timetable for when results will become tangible.
"The discussions have been productive," she said. "It just takes time to build housing and do transportation. It can be frustrating, but we can't solve the problem tomorrow."
Guerrero, however, is less optimistic. She said she's seen too many apartment buildings constructed over the years that purport to be priced for the working class but in reality are nearly impossible for people in the service industry to afford.
"It's not happening," she said. "They're still pricing them out of the market."
The Chamber/Bureau job fair is scheduled for May 4, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Wasatch Brew Pub in Sugar House. Visit the organization's website, visitparkcity.com, for more information.