For town of Vail, Eagle County and other large employers, slow going on hiring
Bus drivers, dispatchers among the top needs
Here’s a quick glimpse at the current tightness of the job market: The town of Vail in 2016 had 156 applications for bus driving positions. There are 12 applications on file this year.
Everyone is short of help right now. It’s perhaps more difficult to find a fully-staffed business in the valley. Wages have gone up, too. The Wendy’s in Eagle is advertising starting pay of $16 per hour. The Walmart in Avon is advertising night stocking positions for $19.50 per hour.
The shortages persist. Among the county’s biggest employers, Eagle County Schools is short roughly 67 people, mostly in support positions. Vail Health is also short of people.
In an email, Vail Health Vice President of Human Resources Doreen E. Coburn wrote that organization currently has 180 open clinical and non-clinical positions at its Eagle and Summit County facilities. That number includes positions at the new Dillon Health Center, set to open in November, and a new orthopedic facility in Basalt.
Many open jobs are those that traditionally have been attractive in terms of pay and benefits. The town of Avon is in that category, and Town Manager Eric Heil wrote in an email that the town currently has just four open positions.
Town of Vail jobs are also known as good ones, as are jobs with Eagle County. Both those organizations are well known for their health insurance packages and other benefits. Eagle County even has housing available for some positions. But both Vail and the county are looking hard for employees heading into the winter season. Both organizations have seasonal bus driving positions, but both are also looking for year-round help.
Eagle County Human Resources Director Hollis Dempsey in an email wrote that organization currently has about 40 open positions, roughly 7% of the total workforce.
Dempsey wrote that about 8% of positions have turned over in the past year. That’s actually better than the situation in 2019, when the turnover rate was just more than 10%. The town of Vail has seen a nearly 20% turnover rate in the past year.
As is the case in Vail, the county is receiving a “smaller number” of applicants for drivers, fleet mechanics and other positions.
Dempsey noted that it’s hard to convince applicants to relocate — primarily due to housing and the cost of living. With that in mind, “we are focusing on a local first approach.”
Dempsey wrote that the county and its department leadership teams are looking for ways to “innovate work and service delivery” to continue to provide quality services despite lower staffing levels.
Vail officials are drafting the 2022 budget, and there may be changes coming to the town’s compensation system.
In a Sept. 7 presentation to the Vail Town Council, Scott Robson, the town manager, noted that housing and pay keep coming up in exit surveys.
“We’re not able to compete with the Front Range on some fronts, and in some, we’re not able to compete with our friends downvalley.
At the same meeting, Vail Human Resources Director Krista Miller said the employment landscape is “drastically changing,” noting that “people are jumping ship across the nation.” That’s led some employers to add sign-on bonuses for new workers.
“What we’re seeing now is not like anything I’ve seen,” consultant Lou Lazo told council members.
Remaining an employer of choice
In a subsequent phone interview, Robson said the town’s goal right now is to “remain an employer of choice.” But that’s going to be difficult.
“We’re struggling just like other municipalities and companies,” he added.
The answer isn’t just added pay or bonuses, Robson said, particularly when it comes to hiring bonuses. Summit County is currently offering $15,000 bonuses for some public safety positions. That isn’t sustainable, he noted.
Bonuses and added pay can also put stress on current staff, who might not like the idea of a new person zooming to the top of the pay scale.
Robson added that, like Eagle County, Vail is looking for local talent first. The town just hired a qualified planner who already lives in the valley. Going outside the valley also has some risks.
Robson said a recent out-of-state applicant for one of the town’s seven open emergency dispatcher positions went through the entire hiring process and accepted an offer. That candidate then looked hard at the cost of living for a family in Eagle County, and decided to decline the job offer.
With all the difficulties, Robson said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that new efforts will pay off. But, he added, “there are some long term financial moves the town of Vail will have to make in coming years to stay competitive.”
Maintenance worker/irrigation technician. Type: Annual. Location: Vail. Pay range: $19.10 to $25.75 per hour.
Emergency dispatcher: Type: Annual. Location: Vail. Pay range: $24.55 to 33.65 per hour.
Equipment operator (road maintenance): Type: Annual. Location: Eagle County, based in Gypsum. Pay range: $20.50 to 22.52 per hour.
Sheriff’s Office Back Office Supervisor: Type: Annual. Location: Eagle. Pay range: $62,429 to $81,165 per year.
All positions include health insurance and other benefits.