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The hiring game

Scott N. Miller

Raj Manickam is always hiring.

Manickam, the chief executive officer for Minturn-based SteamMaster, provides training, housing, and what he believes are good wages and benefits. Still.

“Our turnover is huge,” Manickam said. “At some point people realize it’s just not working for them.”

Turnover is a fact of life in the high country. The working populations of Eagle and Summit counties aren’t as mobile as they once were, but it’s still an expensive place to put down roots.

“When I was working in Chicago, our turnover percentage was, by and large in the single digits,” Eagle County Human Resources Director Nora Fryklund said. “Here it’s in the double digits.”

That means a lot of local employers are always hiring.

That hiring can be nationwide, and not just to fill executive jobs.

Manickam recently went to a job fair near Dallas. He’s pretty sure he came back with four solid recruits.

In SteamMaster’s business, hiring is just the start. Because the company does work in public buildings and mansions, all employees are subject to background checks. Then there’s training to run some of the specialized equipment the company uses.

To try to keep people, SteamMaster has nine bedrooms of employee housing at its Minturn facility. The company pays for training that includes professional certifications, and benefits including insurance and flex time.

“If it’s a powder day and we’re not busy, if you have someone else to cover your shift, go skiing,” Manickam said.

Still, people are always leaving.

Eric Miller is usually hiring at the Best Western Lake Dillon Lodge in Frisco. But he still feels fortunate.

“There’s no one in management who hasn’t been here for at least 10 years,” said Miller, the hotel’s general manager. “We have housekeepers who have been here that long, too.”

Miller gives a lot of the credit for the staff’s longevity to the former general manager. Part, though, is the setting at the hotel, and how the business treats its people, Miller said.

“We’re not a big corporate entity,” Miller said. “People are more like family here.”

Eric Mamula believes in the big workplace family as well.

Mamula, owner of Downstairs at Eric’s restaurant in Breckenridge, sees both sides of hiring and keeping people every year. His kitchen staff is made up mostly of people who have worked there for years.

“We have fairly rigid guidelines about how we operate,” Mamula said. “We treat people right, and we have either management or owners available all the time.”

While the kitchen’s a pretty stable place, it’s a different story out front.

“We’re one of the few places that stays open in April and May,” Mamula said. “We get a lot of transient help in the spring. We’ll get people who aren’t leaving town until June who need to pick up something until they take off.”

But a lot of Mamula’s seasonal people come back for the winters. Still, he said, “It’s getting harder every year” to fill those jobs.

So far, competition for help in Summit County is limited to the businesses there. That may change, to an extent, if and when operations ramp up at the Climax Mine atop Fremont Pass.

Things are a bit different in Eagle County. Garfield County, once a strong source of employees for resorts in Eagle and Pitkin counties, is suddenly booming because of the oil and gas industry, which is luring workers around the region with high pay and jobs closer to home.

“We’ve only lost two, and probably three people to them,” Fryklund said. “But we’re always concerned.”

Eagle County already pays well and provides employees with one of the best benefits packages in the region. But, Fryklund said, the organization ” which has nearly 500 employees ” is always looking for more ways to keep people once they’re hired.

“We’re now having each department director sit down with their staffs to discuss what’s important to people,” Fryklund said. Besides asking employees what they want, the county is already working on a down payment assistance program for its workers, and is formalizing a plan to help new hires pay some of their relocation expenses.

Even with that, it’s still hard to hire.

“We’ve had several people accept jobs, then look at the cost of living and tell us they can’t come,” Fryklund said.

The Eagle Valley Medical Center in Eagle is also known for being a good place to work. Clinic Manager Jae Jeon said there’s a reason.

“We have an incredible benefits package,” Jeon said. “We really pride ourselves on that.”

The clinic can provide benefits because it’s a subsidiary of Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. The hospital, which is in the middle of the oil and gas boom, is also working hard to keep its people.

“We have a new position, a work-life balance coordinator, that’s dedicated to employee needs,” Jeon said. “You have to be to keep people.”

It’s a system that works pretty well at Valley View. Jeon, who’s been with the hospital four years, said he works with several people who started their working lives at the hospital and have been on the payroll for decades.

The key to longevity, Jeon said, is finding the right people.

“Our hiring process is very long,” he said, involving face-to-face interviews with managers as well as extensive background checks.

A lot of that work is done by an outside company, Jeon said.

SteamMaster also uses an outside company to do its background checks. And some organizations that are always hiring cast a wide net, using local and regional classified ads, as well as ads in professional journals and the Internet.

At the Lake Dillon Lodge, though, a lot of hiring’s done the old-fashioned way.

“We use the classifieds,” Miller said. “But we also count on referrals from the people who work here.”

2 Eagle County employees who have taken jobs with oil companies in Garfield County

8 Full or partial pages of help wanted classified ads in the April 25 Vail Daily

6 Full or partial pages of help wanted ads in the April 25 Summit Daily News

9 Months for Eagle County to replace its Director of Information Technology

28 Employees at SteamMaster

365 Days a year SteamMaster runs help wanted ads


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