Companies like Vail Resorts are deploying online videos, hip social media posts and employer branding strategies in search of seasonal and temporary employees, pitching their properties as vacation destinations and inspiring workplaces.
One of the top challenges clubs and resorts face is staffing, and properties with seasonal operations often have a shortage of viable candidates for temporary staff. With Colorado resort economies roaring amid a dire shortage of affordable housing, ski-area operators are getting creative in the search for thousands of seasonal workers, the Denver Post reported.
Companies are deploying online videos, hip social media posts and employer branding strategies while casting the net for employees, pitching their snowy resorts as not just vacation destinations but inspiring workplaces, the Post reported.
Vail Resorts, which needs about 10,000 seasonal workers at its four Colorado resorts each winter, has “invested very heavily” over the last year and a half in its employment brand, said Dave Reed, the resort operator’s vice president of talent acquisition. That investment includes the video-heavy vailresortscareers.com website as well as social and digital marketing efforts aimed at enlisting millennials, the Post reported.
The “reach your peak at Vail Resorts” effort is both informational and aspirational, Reed said, helping to prepare potential employees for the rigors of resort work as well as sharing training opportunities, benefits and the company’s charitable programs and opportunities, the Post reported.
“We try to do that through personal stories; featuring our employees and their stories, emphasizing things like being brave, ambitious and passionate,” Reed said. “Sometimes those words are used, but usually not. They are implied and embedded in the look and feel of the site. It’s very complementary to the guest message, which is all about the experience of a lifetime.”
In many ways, enticing employees is as important as luring guests. “The foundation for all we do is our employees,” said Jim Laing, who opts for the old-school title vice president of human resources at Aspen Skiing Co.
Aspen Skiing needs to hire about 2,500 seasonal employees to ramp up for ski season; about half of those are returning workers and about 500 have worked for the company for more than 20 years. Aspen Skiing gets more applicants than positions, and while sifting through the resumes is a challenge, that pales to the difficulty of finding housing for workers, the Post reported.
That’s the theme across the ski resort landscape, where more and more homeowners have converted housing once available for workers to short-term vacation rentals, the Post reported.
“If we had housing, we would be all hired right now,” said Laing, noting that Aspen Skiing just staffed a new position dedicated to employee housing. “It’s always been a critical issue, but now with the advent of new technologies like VRBO and Airbnb, properties that were available for our employees have just disappeared and housing has gone from critical to crisis.”
Resorts are directing big efforts and dollars toward housing. Aspen Skiing heavily subsidizes housing, providing 600 beds in the Roaring Fork Valley at rental rates that never exceed one-third of an employee’s pay. Vail Resorts has directed $30 million toward employee housing around its ski areas in Colorado, Utah and California, including a recent deal with Wisconsin-based Gorman & co. to build up to 200 affordable units on a parcel the company owns near its Keystone ski area, the Post reported.
Powdr Corp., which owns Copper Mountain and Eldora, has an edge on housing. The EDGE complex—a former Club Med hotel a few steps from Copper Village and an acronym for Every Day Great Experiences—offers 540 beds. And it’s already full with a waiting list, the Post reported.
Potential employees—about a third of them referred from existing staffers—are often sold on Copper when they tour the EDGE building, said Kelly Renoux, the director of employee experience for Copper Mountain. Powdr, which operates nine mountain resorts and seven Camp Woodward action sports training facilities, uses Twitter and Facebook to find employees and recently launched a rebranding campaign that casts the company as an experiential lifestyle company instead of just a resort operator, the Post reported.
“We invite people here and they see it’s a community and lifestyle, not just housing and employment,” said Renoux, noting how the resort offers movie nights, employee dinners and group trips to other resorts and events like the Winter X Games. “The lines today are really blurred between work and playtime. We drive that home during training. We get to live and work in a place that people will save up an entire year just to visit for a week.”
It wasn’t that long ago that resorts leaned heavily on hundreds of foreign workers using H2B visas. Not anymore. The Kiwis and Aussies and South Americans who once bolstered resort employee rolls are no longer around. The bureaucratic process for securing those temporary worker visas is too burdensome and inefficient, the Post reported.
“The last time we applied for H2B visas, we didn’t get approval until after the holidays,” Laing said. “That doesn’t work for us.”
So resorts are targeting younger U.S. workers. Powdr, for example, recruited heavily from Alaska this year. Vail Resorts has revamped its hiring process, allowing applicants to sculpt video resumes through the company’s recruiting website, which eliminates the time-consuming process of scheduling interviews. Vail Resorts has enabled recruiters to hire on the spot during a national hiring event on November 5, further streamlining the application process, the Post reported.
Last year Vail Resorts bumped its minimum hourly wage to $10, which impacted about three-quarters of its seasonal workforce. The company also increased bonuses for employees who refer other workers and stick around until the end of the season. But resort work is rarely about dollars. Resort operators know that and they tend to elevate the fun over the wage, the Post reported.
“We hire for attitude and train for aptitude. We want to make it fun for our employees,” Laing said. “Too many times you hear about people working two, three jobs just to afford to live here. That’s not a good work-life balance without any time to get out and play. We want our employees to have the ability to have one job so they can enjoy being here.”