Hard work helps Skico and RFTA fill available jobs | AspenTimes.com

Hard work helps Skico and RFTA fill available jobs

Aspen Skiing Co. has filled most positions among ski patrol, ski school, snowmaking, lift operations and guest services for 2014-15 even though fewer applicants are seeking work.

Jim Laing, chief human resource officer for Skico, said 30 to 40 positions remain open in the rental and retail operations as well as 30 in ticketing and roughly 75 in mountain operations across the four ski areas.

"We've got some work to do, and some managers are a little anxious, but we're going to fill them," Laing said of the remaining openings.

Skico held two major job fairs as well as one it typically holds just for ski school. "Mini-job fairs" will be held at Aspen Highlands on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 4 p.m. until positions are filled, Laing said. The managers seeking workers will conduct the job fairs.

“We’re sort of back to the old normal.”
Jim Laing, Aspen Skiing Co.

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Skico is one of the single largest employers in the private sector in the Roaring Fork Valley. It employs 3,800 workers at peak season at its on-mountain operations, hotels and restaurants. Skico, like many employers in the valley, typically has trouble filling all positions. That changed during the recession, when more workers from within the valley sought employment. But the construction and real estate industries have bounced back and created a smaller worker pool.

"We're sort of back to the old normal," Laing said.

An advantage Skico has in hiring, is it can offer affordable housing. The company owns or leases 350 seasonal beds in the upper valley and has 600 beds overall.

"Housing is becoming the big story again," Laing said. As Roaring Fork Valley residents' opportunities have expanded and fewer are taking jobs with Skico, more workers are being hired from outside the valley. All of the available housing has been allocated to various departments in anticipation of it being needed to attract applicants, he said.

Laing said all positions would receive a pay increase this season. The company looks at wages paid in the ski industry as well as wages paid for other positions in the Roaring Fork Valley to set its wages. He said Skico is "extremely competitive" overall and "we pretty much define the market" in the ski industry.

The starting wage for lift operators went from $10.25 to $10.50 this season. Lift operators also are eligible for an end-of-season bonus of up to $2 per hour for veterans and $1 per hour for rookies, he said. The bonus is based on performance, guest-service skills, attendance scores and sticking with the position.

Another major employer, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, is "making good progress" in filling 50 to 60 bus driver positions, according to CEO Dan Blankenship. The need is a moving target because of attrition and some applicants dropping out. What will matter most is where the numbers are when Thanksgiving arrives and bus service increases, he said.

"We started our process earlier this year because we had so many positions to fill," Blankenship said.

RFTA had between 120 and 125 driver positions during the summer. It aims to boost that number to 160 for winter service. This year was the first full year of expanded bus service for RFTA, so adjustments have been necessary. The agency paid slightly more than $51,000 in bonuses during the summer to entice drivers to cover unfilled shifts. It paid drivers $100 or $50 to add shifts, depending on how long the additional hours were. In addition, it paid overtime. The program worked to cover 606 shifts, he said.

Blankenship said last summer no drivers would exceed the federal limit of 70 hours worked in any eight-day period.

More drivers are being hired to try to avoid the bonus program for extra shifts this winter. Starting pay for drivers was increased from $17.22 to $18 starting Oct. 5. Veteran drivers received pay hikes of between 50 and 78 cents per hour to avoid compressing the pay scale. In addition, there are end-of-season bonuses offered.

"We're pretty optimistic at this time," Blankenship said of filling openings. "I think the increase in pay helps."

Construction firms also are finding it harder to fill all positions. Rick Stevens, president of Aspen Earthmoving and a Basalt Town councilman, said on Oct. 28 that it's already tougher finding workers in the Roaring Fork Valley now that activity is picking up in the lower Colorado River corridor. Some construction workers are choosing to work closer to their homes.

scondon@aspentimes.com