Skico Looking to get ahead of hiring curve

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Aspen Skiing Co. held its first job fair last week, which was earlier than usual. Skico officials are hoping the early-season push to get employees will help in a challenging labor market.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Aspen Skiing Co. got a jump on the hiring game this season by holding its first job fair earlier than ever — and for good reason.

“We’re definitely concerned about the labor market,” said Jim Laing, chief human resources officer for Skico. “The pendulum has completely swung the other way; we’re sort of at pre-2008-09 supply and demand levels.”

Skico needs to bring on board approximately 2,000 seasonal workers before the chairlifts start up, with about 1,000 of those people being new hires. Filling those ranks will be a challenge, Laing said.

“It’s hard to tell from just this job fair, but we know we have some work to do,” he said.

By holding an early-season job fair Thursday, Laing and his team hoped to get ahead of the competition while sussing out the situation. He said about 75 people showed up for the fair and that the pool was excellent.

“It was a lighter turnout than usual, but the people who showed up are those that are planning ahead and are very qualified,” he said, adding that by holding the fair in August, the company also was able to tap into college students and others who might be returning to the area at peak season. “And if we can capture the college students who can come back and work holiday breaks or off-terms, that’s fantastic.”

Skico traditionally holds job fairs — which target seasonal, front-line employees (lift operators, hospitality workers, etc.) — in September, October and November, if needed.

In addition, Skico has upped the ante in an effort to attract and retain employees. As of July 1, all front-line hourly employees received a $1-per-hour raise. Plus, workers who stay through the entire season receive a bonus of as much as $1 per hour (which can go up to $2 per hour for returning employees).

For example, a first-year lift operator who stays through the season can end up making as much as $11.50 per hour, which Laing believes is a fair and competitive wage.

“The $1-per-hour increase, that’s about a 10 percent increase for entry-level employees,” he said. “We did this because we thought the timing was right, and we’re trying to help these folks gain something on the market — and this is a tough market. Every little bit helps.”

As in years past, Skico also will rely on foreign workers, the majority of whom come to Aspen on student, or J1, visas.

“We try to mirror our guests with our workers,” he said. “And everyone loves that. Our employees from South America, Australia, all over, … they are wonderful. And it really helps with the language skills and for guests to see people working the lifts from their home countries.”

Still, challenges remains — especially when it comes to housing. Laing said Skico has seasonal apartments for about half of its new hires, which leaves the remainder on their own in an increasingly tough rental market.

“When people look around for where to work, we are always at the top of the list — they enjoy our community, our geography and, I like to think, our company,” he said. “But a big determining factor is housing.

“I would say that it’s actually more difficult than pre-2008-09. … That’s just anecdotal and a gut read on what we’re hearing. But the bottom line is it’s challenging.”

Still, Laing said he is confident Skico will find a way to meet its goal and open the season successfully.

“We’re looking at all options,” he said. “In the past, we’ve had community members come forward to help out. And I’d say we would entertain all ideas at this point.”