No shortage of seasonal workers for resorts
December 13, 2011
Countywide unemployment levels are dropping. Percentage point by percentage point, Park City, Summit County and Utah are inching toward recovery from an economic recession still present in other areas of the country. And as the county recovers, a few of Park City’s leading industries, tourism and hospitality, have seen new trends in searches for this year’s seasonal workers.
Department of Workforce Services operations manager overseeing the Mountainlands area, Greg Whittaker, said almost every industry in Summit County is seeing increments of recovery, and as the slopes start opening that fact is never more true than it is for resorts and hotels.
"They are hiring like crazy," Whittaker said. "The biggest challenge is supply side, getting those with skills. While the resorts hire people from around the world, for various reasons, they are looking more locally."
Whether it is Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley Resort or Canyons Reosrt, all three have seen their own trends in seasonal hiring. In past years, finding qualified workers required looking overseas through visa programs to keep staffing levels high enough for the winter season.
"There was a period of years there where Utah was very low on unemployment," said Chris Lampe, director of human resources for Park City Mountain Resort. "It was tough to find enough seasonal workers at that point."
In 2007, Utah unemployment hit a historic low at 2.4 percent according to the according to data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2009, that rate had jumped to 7.5 percent in Summit County Whittaker said.
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"What happens in the economy will drive whether or not there is a need for workers outside the United States or locally," Lampe said.
Park City’s tourism and hospitality industry was slammed with more applications than it could handle in 2009 from all across the country.
Though unemployment in Summit County has begun to rebound, all three of Park City’s resorts said they’ve seen more applications than last year.
"Hiring is going extremely well," said Kim Mayhew, the
director of human resources for Deer Valley. "It’s no secret that the economy is the greatest driving force for entry-level positions that have been hard to fill in the past. And it’s been much easier to fill those positions than in past years."
Mayhew said the most interesting part of this year’s hiring wasn’t the five to 10 percent increase in applicants, but where those applications were coming from. A large portion came from Summit and Wasatch Counties. Another portion came from states with higher unemployment rates, such as Michigan and Florida.
"In September and October and even early November, we would be inundated with applications," Mayhew said. "People were frequenting our site just to see when jobs were opening."
"There are certain pockets of unemployment across country where people are desperate, even for seasonal work," she added. "We hired more from those areas than in the past alongside hiring locals from Summit County, too."
Deer Valley Resort staff increases from 400 year-round employees to nearly 2,600, a fact that made seasonal hires crucial to the resort, Mayhew said.
Canyons Resort also received more applications this year than in years past.
"We had strong interest for 2011-12 season," said resort manager Mike Goar. "We saw a rise in applications and we are fully staffed."
Hotels have been less consistent in matching local resorts’ success in hiring this winter. Even as the Park City Marriott said seasonal employees were harder to come by, the Park City Lodging Association President and manager of the Deer Valley Club, Jeff Bennett, said staffing was on track for the season.
"It depends on the position, but there is plenty of local talent," Bennett said. "We’re looking for a concierge, and already we’ve received several qualified applicants."
Park City Marriott manager Paul Christensen said the same wasn’t true for his hotel. Of the roughly 20 to 30 seasonal positions, only half had been filled Christensen said.
Whittaker said Utah’s Department of Workforce Services is developing a new program aimed at helping seasonal workers find a job to tide them over during the half of the year resorts aren’t flooded with tourists. The program would be more proactive in seeking out employers that could partner with resorts and hotels to provide work in the off-season.
"How do I take someone, have them on a seasonal basis and find something else for them in the off season so they can come back in the winter," Whittaker said. "That’s what resorts want to know. That’s why we’re looking at strategic alliances to promote and sustain that workforce."
The program is still in its infancy stages, developed three months age, but Whittaker said it could be a solution to keeping qualified seasonal workers in Summit County after the economy fully recovers.