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Summer brings no respite for Skico recruiting

Ski season is the farthest thing from many locals’ minds in June, but not for members of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s human resources department.

Human Resources Vice President Jim Laing and his staff are already gearing up for recruiting trips this summer to try to land employees for the 1999-2000 ski season.

Various staff members will head to places like Jackson, Wyo., Yellowstone National Park and Lake Powell, Utah – places where a lot of seasonal summer workers will be looking for winter employment.

There are typically well-organized job fairs held at those summer hot spots to help workers line up something for the winter.

“When we go to job fairs, people usually line up for the Aspen Skiing Company,” said Laing. “People don’t always end up coming here, usually because of housing.”

Every bed the Skico offers translates into a full-time employee. This summer, the Skico will have more beds available due to the company’s purchase of the 32-unit Heatherbed Lodge for use as affordable housing. Laing said that adds housing for about 38 people.

“If we had 500 beds, we’d get 500 people easily,” he said.

The Skico’s been going to the summer resort job fairs for three seasons. Many ski resorts have been tapping into that source even longer.

“We didn’t beat anybody to the punch on that,” Laing said. Nevertheless, it remains one of the best sources to recruit workers along with the Skico’s Internet site, which includes a page on employment possibilities and procedures.

Laing estimated that his staff hires about 100 people per season out of summer recruitment efforts. The trips are even more valuable because they plant the seed of working in Aspen – even if it’s down the road – in people’s minds.

Five years ago recruitment wasn’t necessary for the Skico, Laing noted, but now “recruiting is pretty much a full-time job.” The strength of the national economy has made it tougher to land employees, especially those who will work full-time.

Last season, the Skico filled virtually all its positions, although turnover kept the company searching and hiring throughout the season. Laing anticipates filling the ranks again next winter, but trouble could be brewing a few seasons down the road.

Laing said finding enough employees could be more challenging than usual when the Winter Olympics come to Utah in February 2002.

“Frankly, it scares me,” he said. “Even with housing, it’s going to be difficult to pull people away.”

It’s an issue that Skico President and CEO Pat O’Donnell said will affect the entire ski industry in the Rocky Mountain region. Will seasonal workers want to work at a resort where they can get a job any time or will they want to participate in the pageantry of the Winter Games? O’Donnell asked rhetorically.

As a member of the Colorado Ski Country USA board of directors, he’s urging the state ski industry trade association to start planning now on how to deal with employee demand rather than reacting in late 2001.

It’s an issue that will affect all employers in Aspen, not just the Skico, he noted.

There’s no clear picture yet on how many employees will be needed in Utah to pull off the Olympics. Park City Mountain Resort employs about 1,300 people in peak season and doesn’t anticipate hiring more workers during the Olympics, according to spokeswoman Melissa O’Brien.

That ski area will host technical skiing events during the Games. O’Brien said volunteers will be recruited as they are with World Cup ski races.

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee plans to employ about 600 paid workers, mostly for office jobs in the Salt Lake City area, a representative said. The committee already employs about 230 workers.


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