Skico taps into foreign markets for workers | AspenTimes.com

Skico taps into foreign markets for workers

The Aspen Skiing Co. tapped into a federal program again this ski season to import overseas workers to help fill its labor needs.

The Skico acquired about 200 special permits known as H2B visas. That is about the same number of visas it has applied for and received in recent years, according to Jim Laing, Skico vice president of human resources.

Under the program, the Skico must demonstrate to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service that it cannot satisfy its entire labor need through the domestic supply. If the visas are granted, the Skico works with contacts in other countries who supply workers who want to come to Aspen for the winter.

The program makes it easier for the workers to come overseas because the Skico makes the effort to get the visas. Prospective employees are still checked out and approved by American consulates in the other countries.

During their stay in the U.S. the foreign workers are beholden to the Skico, as the sponsoring employer, for their temporary stay. H2B visas are available for unskilled labor positions.

Although the U.S. economy is ailing and unemployment is creeping up, the federal program still appears popular. Laing said it was no tougher getting visas for temporary workers this year than in years past.

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U.S. unemployment hit 6 percent in November, matching an eight-year high. It has been slightly lower in Colorado.

In Aspen, businesses have reported an easier time recruiting and retaining employees. Laing was among several business representatives who told The Aspen Times last week that Aspen is more of an employers’ market this year than it has been in some time.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean it’s been possible to fill all positions. “It’s not as if we’re turning people away,” said Laing.

The Skico has about 2,500 positions in mountain operations and administration during peak season. While some positions are filled, others remain open, Laing said.

The Skico used the temporary worker visas to attract job candidates from Australia, New Zealand, South America and, in lesser numbers, a variety of other countries.

The Skico ? like numerous other employers in Aspen, large and small ? also hires workers from overseas who are here on J1 or student visas. The Skico hired about 100 such workers, Laing estimated.

U.S. ski resorts like Aspen are popular among students who are on summer break in places like Australia and New Zealand. They typically must go back home by the end of March, so they fill a critical seasonal need.

Some Aspen hotels also use something called the H1B program, which allows U.S. companies to bring in overseas workers for skilled positions. It is often used for management training.

The Skico’s Little Nell hotel is famous for the international flavor of its staff. The acclaimed hotel draws “hospitality industry professionals” from Relais and Chateaux and 16 other exclusive properties that it is affiliated with, according to Little Nell General Manager Eric Calderon. Most of those other properties are summer resorts so employees are seeking winter employment.

The Little Nell also recruits some of its staff from overseas.

“We have had an easier time finding qualified applicants this winter but we continue to recruit some of our best front-line positions in London,” said Calderon.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]

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