Vail Valley workforce survey shows difficulty in hiring
Cost, availability of housing is a key hindrance to hiring, respondents say
- 30%: Employers who report “good” or “excellent” experience finding new employees.
- 44%: Employers who report it takes two to three months to fill open positions.
- 51%: Employers who expect to add between one and four employees in the coming year.
- 72%: Employers who say housing availability negatively affects their ability to attract, hire and retain employees.
EAGLE COUNTY — If you’re hiring, this isn’t news: it’s harder to find new employees than it was even a year ago.
That’s just one of the trends identified in the most recent workforce report released by the Vail Valley Parternship and Vail Valley Economic Development.
It also isn’t news that jobs are staying unfilled longer, and that housing remains a “major frustration” for employees in the valley. That frustration is growing. In just the last year, the number of employees ranking housing as a major frustration has increased from 61% to 65% of respondents.
That growth has come as the economy has recovered from the national recession that began in 2008. As recently as the 2014-2015 survey, only 35% of respondents rated housing as a major frustration.
Employers have noticed the housing crunch, of course. Since 2015-2016, between 60% and 78% of employers participating in the survey stated that the availability of housing negatively impacts their efforts to attract, hire and retain employees.
A problem forever
Those numbers have varied wildly during the 13 years the survey has been taken. In the 2009-2010 survey, with the valley in a deep economic slump, only 24% of employers said housing negatively affected their ability to hire.
But Jim Pavelich said housing has always been a problem in the Vail Valley.
Pavelich, a co-founder of the Vail Daily is currently the owner of the Northside Kitchen restaurants in Avon in Vail and Benderz Southside in Avon. He recalled arriving in Vail in 1975.
“The manager of the Holiday Inn said she’d hire me if I had a place to stay. I lied and I got hired,” Pavelich said.
Pavelich said staffing at his restaurants also mirrors a long-running problem in the valley.
“There’s an ebb and flow of seasonal employment population that follows the tourist population, he said. “People leave and come back.”
It’s getting worse
But the survey seems to indicate longtime trends aren’t improving.
“The fact it’s getting worse is nuts,” Vail Valley Partnership President Chris Romer said. “We’re not doing a better job.”
Beyond housing and recruitment, health insurance is another major problem.
“That’s been the big three for a while,” Romer said.
To help avoid turnover, a number of local businesses are increasing training and providing benefits.
According to the survey, 63% of employers plan to increase their investments in training.
That can help keep good people. Another way to keep people is to make work less seasonal.
Jeanne Fritch, general manager of the Sitzmark Lodge in Vail, said that 35-room hotel doesn’t do much seasonal hiring.
“We try to keep staff, and keep them busy in the offseason,” Fritch said. “We try to find projects for them. We don’t want to lose anybody.”
In addition to year-round work, the Sitzmark also offers a benefits package including health insurance, participation in a retirement fund and paid vacation.
The same is true at the Antlers Lodge in Lionshead. Antlers assistant general manager Kim Newbury-Rediker said that property also works to keep virtually all of its 50-person staff working all year.
The Antlers has some on-site housing and also offers insurance and health savings account options.
The Antlers is a condominium complex and has a homeowners association. Newbury-Rediker said those condo owners work to “make sure we’re providing the salary and benefits to encourage (long-term employment).” In fact, she added, some people on the housekeeping staff have been with the Antlers for more than a decade.
While recruitment is a problem, Romer said it isn’t just the hospitality industry that’s been affected.
“It’s industry agnostic,” Romer said. “It’s construction, hospitality, education, health and wellness.” Some of those sectors have good-paying jobs that go unfilled, he said.
Those unfilled positions are a problem now, and will be a greater problem in the future, Romer said.
Still, most respondents said they believe the local economy will remain solid, or improve a bit.
In the remarks with the survey, one respondent wrote:
“Businesses seem to be doing well, but staffing is suffering. The cost of living keeps going up and wages do not keep pace.”