Head-hunting, Internet help ease Skico’s labor shortage | AspenTimes.com
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Head-hunting, Internet help ease Skico’s labor shortage

The Aspen Skiing Co. is having an easier time finding employees for the ski season even though the national economy remains strong and competition for warm bodies is as fierce as ever.

“We’re ahead of where we’ve been at this point in prior years,” said Skico human resources director Jim Laing last week.

He credited his staff’s aggressive recruiting efforts and the company’s addition of affordable housing as keys to luring new workers.

The Internet has also emerged as one of the best tools to recruit people from within the country and overseas, according to Laing. Its popularity has apparently come at the expense of traditional job fairs.

Laing recalled that the Skico’s job fairs, where the public is invited to an open house to learn what positions are available, used to attract 400 to 500 people when he first started with the company six years ago. Last year, only 170 showed up for the whole day, he said.

Despite the diminishing returns, the Skico still believes an old-fashioned job fair is worthwhile. It will be held Oct. 27 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Bumps Restaurant at Buttermilk Mountain.

Internet emerges as tool

Fortunately for the Skico, it doesn’t have to sit idle until the job fair rolls around any more.

Recruiting is almost a year-round endeavor now, thanks to the Internet.

Laing said the Skico posts openings at a new employment Web site at http://www.jobswithaltitude.com, which links to the Skico’s main Web site. An employment section on the Skico’s Web site – http://www.aspensnowmass.com – lists current openings, position descriptions, pay, schedules and other information.

“If they are interested in applying for a position, they can apply on line and the application is instantly forwarded to a human resources representative,” said Laing.

The Skico also uses job-seeker Web sites such as coolworks.com and nationjob.com, he said.

As of mid-September, the Skico had received 1,000 inquiries from prospective job seekers in the U.S. and overseas, Laing estimated. So far, about 350 people have been hired from that pool, he said.

1,000 openings

The Skico has typically tried to hire 1,000 new workers for recent ski seasons. At high season, the company employs about 3,000 people. Of those, Laing said, roughly 1,000 are year-round employees, 1,000 are returning seasonal workers and 1,000 are new workers.

Foreign workers have jumped at the chance to fill positions that come with visas obtained by the Skico. The company applied to the U.S. Department of Labor to boost the number of foreign workers through the special H2B program from 105 last season to 170.

It appears the request will be honored, although that won’t be certain until applicants go the U.S. consulates in their countries and try to pick up the visas, said Laing.

Those employees must work for their sponsor company as long as they are in the U.S. Virtually all applications for those positions came via the Internet, said Laing.

Other workers from overseas acquire visas on their own.

Park workers attracted

The Internet hasn’t completely overshadowed old-fashioned recruiting techniques. The Skico has sent staff members to some of the biggest national parks in the country to pitch Aspen and Snowmass to seasonal employees who lose jobs and, often, housing for the winter.

This summer, the Skico – and several other ski resort operators, Laing noted – has mined labor at Yellowstone, Denali and Lake Powell.

“We are planning on increasing the number of recruiting trips next year to include South America and Australia and several other [locations],” said Laing.

The interesting and encouraging factor that Skico recruiters have noted on those trips is employees are willing to “stand in line” to find out what’s available in Aspen. The resort has an alluring reputation and an atmosphere that employees desire, he said.

“Now what we need is a place to put them,” said Laing, who has long maintained that Aspen wouldn’t have an employee shortage if it didn’t have a housing shortage.

The Skico constructed studios and one-, two- and four-bedroom apartments in Snowmass Village for 153 employees, according to Laing. In addition, Skico partner Hines Development constructed 37 dorm units at Highlands Village. The Skico will use 35 units while Hines uses two.

The Skico has housing for a total of about 300 employees – the same as last season. The constructed units were offset by the unavailability of the Grand Aspen Hotel.


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