VAIL — Kathleen Barron was hard-pressed to find time to talk to a reporter — she’s spending much of her time right now talking to job applicants.
Barron is the operations manager for the Gorsuch stores in the Vail Valley. Those businesses, like many others in the valley, are now in the midst of the preseason push to fill any number of winter positions. While Vail Mountain’s Opening Day is Nov. 22, most businesses will be happy to have their full winter staffs in place a few weeks before the two-week madhouse of Christmas and New Year’s.
That’s something of a change from, say, 2006, when this newspaper’s “help wanted” classified ads often ran to six pages or more — the section was about two pages in the Friday’s edition. It’s also a change from the depths of the economic slump, when there were far more applicants than available jobs.
These days, employers seem confident they’ll have their winter staffs filled by the time visitors start arriving in force.
At Elway’s restaurant in Vail Village, “front of the house” manager Brody O’Meara has also been talking to multiple job applicants. A Nov. 5 job fair brought out a good number of job-seekers, and O’Meara expected similar results from an event this week.
“I feel confident I’ll be fully staffed by the end of this month,” O’Meara said.
That’s going to be important for the Christmas push. If the snow is good, and if the restaurant hosts a few large groups, then O’Meara believes he can have the staff properly trained for the busy Christmas season.
While a lot of hiring is still done in person, Barron said she often communicates via email and Skype with a lot of applicants. And, while Gorsuch has a core of seasonal people who return for several winters, Barron said there’s still a “freshman class,” people in their first winters in the Vail Valley.
But even the newcomers must have some retail experience and be able to deliver the kind of customer service the store’s clients expect.
While there seem to be plenty of applicants, Barron said Gorsuch uses far fewer foreign workers than it once did. That can actually be a problem, since stores and restaurants need people who can speak other languages, particularly Spanish.
While foreign workers used to be part of the foundation of the valley’s seasonal workforce, town of Vail Human Resources Director Krista Miller said the town has virtually stopped using seasonal-work visas. Those visas used to help the town fill its seasonal bus-driving crew, primarily with drivers from Australia.
“With the complexity of the visa process, it just got too cumbersome to continue,” Miller said.
That’s made finding bus drivers a tougher task for the town, but Miller said recruiting those people has gone fairly well. The easiest jobs to fill are for people who shovel snow and other relatively low-skilled jobs. High-skill jobs — bus mechanics, for instance — might be the toughest to fill, but Miller said since those are year-round positions, the town can take the time needed to fill them.
Ironically, the lower-skill jobs can be the toughest to fill at a hotel. The general manager at Manor Vail, Bob McCleary, said housekeeping and food service positions often fill last when hiring for the winter.
“Those aren’t the positions people come to Vail for,” McCleary said.
Housekeepers in particular work hard, and work during the day, when many people would prefer to be out skiing.
But McCleary, like the other people interviewed for this story, said he’s confident all of Manor Vail’s 30 or so seasonal positions will be filled by early December. And, while there seem to be a good number of applicants, it can be tricky to put the right person in the right job.
“I don’t know if there’s ever enough really good people,” he said.
“I don’t know if there’s ever enough really good people.” Bob McCleary, Manor Vail general manager