Vail Chamber & Business Association: Starting our student workers off right
A week ago, I returned from an 11-day, 2,300-mile road trip through the Southwest that included one last ski day in the Wasatch Mountains, biking in four states, a show in Las Vegas and relaxing on a beach in La Jolla, California. It felt great to return to our little paradise in the heart of the Rockies, though winter seems to be hesitant to leave us this year.
Spring and fall retreats to destinations near and far are the norm for those of us who have chosen a seasonal life and end-of-season conversations with colleagues in town just about always contain: “Where are you headed for the offseason?”
It was a little comical to realize just how not alone I was in looking forward to the season change evidenced by the droves of mountain people who took over the 18-mile road in Fruita the weekend after Vail Mountain stopped turning the lifts. A common motivator as we push through the three busy weeks of spring breaks in March is the planning of getaways to the desert, the beach and overseas.
Now that my feet are back on the ground, I’m looking beyond offseason to what will no doubt be a busy summer of weddings, concerts and hosting guests from all over the world. It’s top of mind here in Vail that our first summer “work and travel” students will begin arriving this weekend.
Individuals will join Vail businesses and others across the U.S. to work for the summer under the U.S. State Department’s J1 Visa Program. This program provides college and university students enrolled full-time at educational institutions outside the country to come to the United States to share their culture and ideas through temporary work and travel.
The Summer Work Travel program provides foreign students with an opportunity to live and work in the United States during their summer vacation to experience and be exposed to the people and way of life in the United States. Over the coming weeks, The Arrabelle at Vail Square and many other town of Vail businesses will welcome new team members from well over a dozen other countries.
Discussions at Arrabelle team meetings going into each season focus on this subject and how this mix of cultures creates opportunities and challenges for department managers and their teams. One Arrabelle leader who is particularly versed with the rewards and challenges created by leading a team with diverse backgrounds, languages and differing motivations for joining us over several winter and summer seasons shared her opinion that setting the right tone and expectations ahead of the students’ arrival was critical to creating a successful experience for her department and the students themselves.
Providing the right information to these students before they get here, setting clear expectations during the first few days of employment and accountability throughout the season is instrumental in ensuring a mutually successful experience. While being sufficiently proficient in English to successfully interact in an English-speaking environment is a pre-requisite of eligibility for the program, the detailed vernacular utilized on a day-to-day basis within a department is often unknown to the students on arrival. This particular manager has shared the importance of deliberately segmented and sufficiently detailed training over those first few days of work to create an environment that allows the student to quickly get up to speed and to be successful all season.
A visiting business owner at yesterday’s Vail Chamber and Business Association Board meeting shared his observations of the challenges involved with getting visiting students to integrate with the community outside of work. The Chamber’s “Mountain Hospitality Ambassador” program will provide opportunities for new members of our community to engage with more seasoned Vail workers and resources for gaining valuable town of Vail knowledge.
Hopefully, in this process, these employees get a better sense of our community and our culture here. As the chamber continues to develop this program, we’ll provide training resources and fun events that create a sense of community welcoming new seasonal employees and re-engaging year-round workers to the town of Vail experience.
For me, the beginning of a new season is always a fun time of the year. Watching the new seasonal staff arrive excited for their experience in the U.S. is something truly special to get to be a part of. Ensuring our teams are prepared to help their new coworkers feel welcome, important, comfortable and relaxed is the first step in ensuring our guests are made to feel the same way throughout the season ahead.
Zachary Meyers is a member of the Vail Chamber & Business Association and General Manager at The Arrabelle at Vail Square, a RockResort. For more information, call 970-477-0075 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.