Labor shortages complicate winter season across the county
It is certainly no secret that Grand County suffers from a labor shortage, and has for several years.
As local restaurants, lodging accommodations, ski resorts and grocery stores gear up for the mass influx of visitors they expect in the coming months, different establishments are tackling the problem of finding reliable help in different ways.
WINTER PARK RESORT EMPLOYS J-1 VISA PROGRAM
Winter Park Resort is intimately familiar with the difficulties of meeting full staffing needs for the high winter season. The mountain resort scales up their staffing numbers for winter, when more of the mountain is open versus summer, and a small army of around 1,500 employees are required to keep the ski resort functioning.
Case Kennedy, human resources manager for Winter Park, said she sees the competitive job market in Grand County as a major factor in the lack of seasonal workers but also highlighted housing issues and, increasingly, transportation concerns as factors that also limit the overall employee pool.
“We are seeing more and more workers without transportation,” Kennedy said.
To address labor shortages the resort relies on a few strategies including an early fall hiring push, providing employee housing for many seasonal workers, and employing temporary foreign workers through the J-1 visa program. The resort also relies on interdepartmental cross-training of employees.
“If you work in housekeeping there are high times and low times,” Kennedy said. “We try to reach out to staff, and find out what folks can do. That we are meeting labor needs in two different departments.”
HOUSING WOES FOR WENDY’S
The strategies employed by some businesses to find or retain seasonal workers during winter can have direct impacts on other businesses who are competing for the same labor pool.
Steve Saffle, manager of Wendy’s in Fraser, explained the difficulty his establishment faces in finding employees and noted Winter Park Resort’s employee housing offerings are a big factor for many workers.
“We have upped our rate from $12 an hour to $13 an hour and believe it or not that is not working,” Saffle said. “A lot of people go work for the ski area because of housing, even though our pay is higher. They provide housing and we don’t.”
Saffle said Wendy’s currently has around 23 employees but ideally the restaurant would have 32. They are covering the gaps by relying extensively on overtime work but Saffle said he would prefer to increase his total employees rather than paying significant overtime hours.
Ironically enough Wendy’s labor shortage problems are more pronounced in summer, even though the store sees more traffic in winter. According to Saffle, Wendy’s loses several workers at the end of the winter season when Lift bus service to the Granby area stops.
WESTERN RIVIERA EXEMPT FROM TREND
Of all the businesses interviewed only Western Riviera Lakeside Lodging in Grand Lake said it does not experience labor shortages in Winter. There are several factors playing a part, but Western Riviera’s location in Grand Lake, which does not typically have a busy winter season, is among the most important.
“We don’t see the same winter pressure,” Traci Woolverton, Western Riviera general manager, said. “We don’t need to up staff in winter. We just keep our core group.”
Woolverton, also attributed the lack of issues to the workplace culture of the establishment and the Lodge’s owners, Mike and Jackie Tompkins, who Woolverton praised for their treatment of employees.
“They are the most loving and caring people, and we always feel appreciated.” Woolverton said. “We are treated very well. We work hard and have a good time.”
According to Woolverton the sense of appreciation and camaraderie amongst Western Riviera’s core staff has helped with employee retention by ensuring employees are not easily enticed by other job offers.
WINTER HARDER FOR SAFEWAY
Safeway Store Director Nick Swanson was emphatic that Fraser’s Safeway, like most every other business in the Fraser Valley, experiences labor shortage issues during both winter and summer months and that those issues are most pronounced in winter.
“We are similar to the rest of the county,” Swanson said. “We have issues with hiring staff. The applicant pool is just not very large.”
Safeway in Fraser employees around 120 individuals and temporary foreign workers, working on J-1 visas, are a key part of their staffing strategy.
“Roughly six months of the year we employee J-1s,” Swanson said. “During peak times in summer and winter.”
Swanson said Safeway employed 12 foreign workers under J-1 visas this past summer and confirmed the store would have additional J-1 visa workers this winter. He said he was unable to provide specific numbers on the total J-1 workers for Safeway this winter until after the season is over.
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