Recruiting seasonal employees in full swing
Most, if not all, ski resorts rely on seasonal employees. Generally that means the population in the winter months is higher than during the summer. For Park City, which houses three resorts in an area with roughly 3,000 primary homes, seasonal employees are the winter lifeblood of the entire city.
Restaurants, retail stores, lodging facilities and, of course, the ski resorts all boom in the winter with the influx of tourists and the increase in local population.
Kim Mayhew of the human resources department at Deer Valley said they employ over 1,700 seasonal employees from November to April. Seasonal workers make up nearly 90 percent of its winter workforce.
"Last year we topped out at about 1,960 employees and we’ll be very similar to that this year," she said. "Recruiting seasonal workers is going pretty well right now, but in talking to colleagues in this business and others who employ seasonal workers, we are at critical mass as far as labor shortage, so that makes things difficult."
Mayhew said the Department of Workforce Services released statistics that Utah unemployment is very low, meaning that everyone who wants a job already has one, making local recruiting difficult. Despite the numbers, Deer Valley still has three local job fairs planned for the next month.
"We are about we where would hope to be at this time, with a few more job expos on the books," she said. "We have one on Oct. 25 here at Snow Park and another on Monday Nov. 13 at Snow Park. We’ll also be at the Park City Job Fair on Nov. 1 at The Yarrow Hotel."
All three resorts pooled resources to offer a free employee bus that runs from the Provo/Orem area through Heber City and another from Salt Lake City to shuttle employees from the surrounding counties.
Outside of Utah, Mayhew said they hire a mix of international and domestic workers.
"It’s a variety," she said. "Locally we have a lot of folks who have worked for us and who continue to work for us year after year, especially students. We did step up our domestic recruiting this year, domestic meaning the East Coast, Mid West, North West, and so on."
In the United States, Mayhew said Deer Valley targets summer resorts with which they can "share employees."
"It’s a great way to keep passing employees back and forth between summer resorts and a winter resort," she said. "We try to get out and about. As of August we have recruiters out on the road every week."
"In the early spring we start making contacts with the resorts and places we have been in the past to set up times and dates for interviews," she said. "It’s a relationship process that if it’s well developed doesn’t take a lot to coordinate those reciprocal efforts, but this year we did a few new resorts and that takes a little more effort on our part."
As for international employees, the recruiting process at Deer Valley begins much earlier.
"We start in July we do one international trip," Mayhew said. "This year we went to four different countries in South America. We did a whirlwind, one-week tour there and it went very well. We actually complete our international hiring by Aug. 1."
Because of changes the U.S. government has made in the process of obtaining seasonal employment visas, Mayhew said the process is taking longer than in the past, which makes everything more difficult.
"It’s not so much hard to get visas, but hard to process," she said. "The Department of Homeland Security has restructured how they handle H2B Visas, which are for seasonal workers. Our approval notices on those visa have taken much longer than in past years."
Petitions are taking longer because those types of visas are being handled by one center, instead of at many locations as in the past.
Park City Mountain Resort
Chris Lampe, Mayhew’s counterpart at Park City Mountain Resort said the changes have made the process slower, but that with proper preparations the effects can be mitigated.
"There have definitely been changes, but as long as you keep up to date with it, it doesn’t seem to have too much impact," Lampe said. "It’s just a matter of keeping up with it."
He said PCMR made a change in how they deal with H2B visas, which might have off set the increase in wait time. He also said they use another type of visa, a J-1, which is for international students to work during their summer vacation.
Lampe said he and his colleagues at PCMR start the international recruiting process on June 1, taking trips to Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Argentina and Brazil.
By focusing on the southern hemisphere, which has its summer season during Park City’s winter, the workers can use their summer vacation to work and ski.
PCMR hires about 900 seasonal employees each winter, which constitutes about 90 percent of their workforce, but Lampe said international workers only make up about five percent of that.
Domestic workers, which are the bulk of employees at PCMR, are the main focus for the resort. Lampe said their two best resources are their former employees and their Web site.
Former employees are used as a resource in two ways, Lampe said: to recruit them directly for an additional season of employment and to ask them for referrals of others who might be interested.
"Prior to the end of the season we encourage all of our managers to speak with their current employees about where they stand and to offer them a job back the next year," he said. "There is also a referral bonus, so if you refer someone who is hired you get a bonus and this year we’re giving that at two points, one after Christmas and one at the end of the season."
One way Lampe said recruiting is made easier is by working with other resorts, such as Lake Powell, Roche Harbor in Washington and even resorts in Alaska.
"We try to partner with as many summer seasonal employers as possible," he said. "Those employees who enjoy the seasonal aspect of the work and who want to be at resorts, we want to recruit them here and share them with their summer resort."
As for online resources, he said they post open jobs on their site, along with contact information so interested parties can find out more information and apply.
"We try to keep the Web site as up to date as possible," he said. "If there is a new job opening we get it up that day. It’s the easiest thing, especially internally, for people to just check out the Web site."
Donna Gold of The Canyons said their recruiting is a mix between international and domestic tours and using online resources. The Canyons, which hires about 900 seasonal workers out of a total 1,400 employees on staff, has a smaller percentage of seasonal workers because of the large staff size needed to run their conference offerings in the summer.
Much like the other two resorts, Gold said The Canyons is right where they want to be in the recruiting process.
"It’s going well," she said. "We’ll have our first job fair on Oct. 24 at the Grand Summit Hotel. We have close to 400 internationals already signed this year, so we’re feeling cautiously optimistic."
Gold said they recruited a high number of international workers this year because, since they sign on earlier than domestic recruits, they make it less complicated as deadlines approach.
"One reason we did that is because last year it was difficult to recruit and it was the first difficult time we had had recruiting," she said. "We thought that if we had more guaranteed workers it would make domestic recruiting easier."
"Internationals add a great flavor and I think our guests like that," she continued. "Their work ethic is also high. Plus, it’s just very hard to find workers domestically in the United States."
Although they accomplished the goal of getting more international workers, Gold said they will make changes next year.
"We’re anticipating growing our recruiting plan domestically next year, and we recognized the need to increase our relationship with summer resorts."
Gold said their recruiting process starts in mid-winter when she starts receiving calls from international workers inquiring about the next season. The long process involves tours, local job fairs and a creative Web design.
With three local job fairs planned at the resort, along with the Park City Job Fair, Gold said they’re counting on local recruits to fill the gaps, and then hopefully to return next year.
There are still interested people sending emails and making phone calls daily. She said the secret with them is to return their messages quickly.
"We try to involve our managers in the recruiting process," she said. "Because the people who are calling are generally sitting in their living rooms calling 10 resorts. It comes down to which resort is the first to get back to them."
As for non-resort businesses, Deer Valley Lodging, which has no relationship to Deer Valley Resort, is one of many that employ seasonal workers. Recruiter Joe Lair said they hire approximately 300 seasonal workers and that they are currently about two-thirds of the way done.
Much like the resorts, Lair said the process of recruiting is similar, as are the main problems: housing and transportation. He said a year-round express bus to Park City from Salt Lake would alleviate a lot of the trouble, although it doesn’t seem likely to happen soon.
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