Park City employers desperate to fill positions offer more incentives
Labor shortages and hiring difficulties are not new issues to businesses in Park City. But as the town steps into winter, owners and managers are feeling the weight of the problem.
Businesses in Park City are struggling to fill positions for the upcoming busy winter season, even as they get creative and generous with their incentives.
The reasons for the struggle are familiar for many owners. They know unemployment rates are low in the state and county. They know there is a surplus of jobs for potential employees to grab. And they are fully aware that it is extremely difficult for their employees to afford to live in Park City. But they need the workers. During the ski season, when tourists crowd the resorts, restaurants and shops, having enough employees to properly serve those guests is critical for every business.
The problems simply get worse every year, said Shirin Spangenberg, who owns Escape Room Park City and the recycling company Curb It Recycling with her husband Dirk.
“I think we’re finally getting people, but the stress working up to this point has been tremendous,” she said of Escape Room Park City. She is finally starting to see some job applications trickle in, but the business is still understaffed going into the winter.
Spangenberg is not alone in her struggle to find employees, but she does feel solitary competing against big businesses that can offer perks like discounted or free ski passes, health insurance or retirement plans.
“As a small business, I don’t have access to giving out ski passes. I just don’t have all these perks I can give,” she said.
This year, Deer Valley Resort is bolstering its recruiting efforts by offering 401(k) options for every employee who works a certain amount of hours, regardless if they are full-time or part-time, said Kathleen Newell, recruiting coordinator for the resort. The resort was able to add that benefit partly because it is now owned by Alterra Mountain Company, a conglomerate of ski resorts across the country.
Since Deer Valley is part of a multi-resort brand, employees also get free passes to Alterra-owned resorts across the country for themselves and their family members. Newell said the benefits have helped attract employees this year, but the resort is still scrambling to find ski instructors, lift operators and cooks.
Adam Ross, co-owner of the restaurant Twisted Fern, is also trying to offer enticing benefits. He plans to provide employees with health insurance packages.
But, he said, perhaps the biggest survival strategy for businesses is to be malleable.
“Everybody has two jobs in this town,” he said. “I have to make it flexible and understand that the other restaurant that (my employee) works at is going to have the same needs as me.”
Deer Valley uses a similar strategy to fill positions. It is flexible with scheduling, offering temporary work for people looking to bring in extra cash during two to three weeks for Christmas break, three-day weekends and spring break weeks, Newell said.
Wendy Horne, employment center supervisor for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said all companies have to get creative with their incentives if they want to get people to apply. Based on what she is hearing from employees and employers, she said this year’s hiring situation seems to be consistent with that of previous seasons.
“It’s a tough market right now for a company hiring. For employers, it’s really hard to get the help they need,” she said.
Businesses often reach out to her for help finding employees or coming up with ideas for incentives. But there are simply not enough workers to go around. She said the Department of Workforce Services canceled its fall job fair in Summit County because there were not sufficient job seekers for the event to be beneficial for employers. As it is, she said an employer is lucky to get one employee from two to three hours sitting at a job fair.
Employers are not giving up hope yet, though. Newell said the hiring game is coming into full swing now. As college and high school students get out of school for winter break in mid-December, the resort gets an influx of hires. Ross also said that many of the town’s winter workers have not made it to town yet. Students from foreign countries with J-1 visas, which allow them to work in the U.S. temporarily, tend to arrive in Park City a week or two before the Christmas holidays.
Ross said playing the waiting game is nerve-wracking, because he is still looking to fill some jobs. He is hopeful, though.
“You kind of have to remember that they will show up,” he said.
Without employees, businesses find it hard to deliver quality experiences in a town where hospitality is everything. Spangenberg said she had to cut back Escape Room Park City’s hours because she lacks the staffing to keep it open. That was a similar tone earlier this year, as several businesses in town reduced hours in the fall due to the labor shortage.
Newell said if staffing were to ever be too low at Deer Valley, the resort would have to hold off on opening some lifts. But, she is not aware of that happening at the resort in recent years.
Increasing pay is one of the only ways small businesses can entice workers to apply, Spangenberg said. She said she has always paid “well over minimum wage,” but she has had to raise pay rates two times in the past three years at her business Curb It Recycling.
Her employees come to her asking for increased pay checks because their rents are going up, but Spangenberg said her commercial lease is going up, too.
“Then I’m like, ‘Well, does it make sense for me to stay in business any longer?’ At some point I have to start looking at that,” she said. “Am I going to be able to get employees? Am I going to be able to afford them?”
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The Park City Chamber/Bureau on Tuesday honored Bob Wheaton, the longtime leader of Deer Valley Resort, with its annual Myles Rademan Spirit of Hospitality Award. Wheaton joins a long list of prominent Park City figures who have won the award.