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Uncertain economy puts job fair on hold

— Local businesses that depend on tourism aren’t as eager to hire for the coming ski season as they were a year ago.

The Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. plans to plunge ahead with its Nov. 3 job fair, but a similar community-wide hiring fair typically held on the same day has been postponed indefinitely.

“We’ll monitor it month to month,” Pat Bonny said. “If (local lodging properties) get slammed with reservations, then we’re going to have a job fair.”

Bonny is a a labor and employment specialist at the Colorado Workforce Center.

A national economy that was bordering on recession prior to the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks, has created uncertainty about the dependability of the holiday ski crowd.

Businesses from property management companies to restaurants are reevaluating how quickly they will bring seasonal employees onto the payroll.

The local reluctance to hire is reflected in the level of activity at the local office of the Colorado Workforce Center, Bonny said. The most current unemployment figures for Routt County date to Aug. 30, when the unemployment rate was a barely measurable 1.4 percent.

The real story, Bonny said, lies in the number of job openings posted at the center.

“My job orders are down to 34, which is unheard of for this time of year,” Bonny said. “Normally, I have over 100. It’s bad.”

Bonny helped to organize last year’s job fair. She said the reason why it has been postponed indefinitely is easily understood when flyers were mailed out to employers who might be interested in setting up a table at the job fair, only one responded.

Sandy Evans-Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, said her staff was able to recruit two more employers for the job fair, but that wasn’t enough to justify holding the event.

“Most people are just kind of waiting to see,” Bonny said. “We’re hearing from people that they might hire maybe 80 percent (of staffing levels from previous years,) if that.”

The two job fairs were held across the street from one another in 2000. The ski corp. interviewed candidates for jobs both on the ski area and at the Steamboat Grand in the hotel’s ballroom. The community job fair hosted 19 employers last fall and the tables stretched form the lobby of the Sheraton Steamboat through its formal dining area.

The ski area only expects to have one-third the number of job openings at the Nov. 3 fair compared to a year ago, but overall, it’s seasonal hiring tentatively will only decline by 50 to 75 jobs out of a total of nearly 1,400 positions.

Ski Corp. Human Resources Director Trish Sullivan said although the ski area will probably delay putting seasonal workers on the payroll until later in December this year, the pace of hiring has been accelerated compared to last year.

The ski area did more hiring in August and September this year.

And the final reduction in the seasonal work force will probably change as the ski area reacts to the resort season.

Sullivan anticipates the ski area’s various departments and the Steamboat Grand Hotel will be seeking to hire 80 to 100 people compared to the 300 openings it advertised at last year’s fair. The ski area has been able to offer positions to all of the the employees who wish to return from last year, Sullivan said.

The ski area has also been conducting interviews and hiring employees throughout October.

“We have good quality applicants coming through, but it still can be difficult to hire for some positions, either because of the volume (needed) or by job,” Sullivan said.

Traditionally, it is difficult to find people to work as cafeteria attendants, she said.

The ski area will not hire as many international employees this year as it did last year.

Going into last ski season Sullivan was seeking to boost the number for foreign nationals working on the slopes from 200 to 400.

Ultimately, she succeeded in hiring 350 people on work visas, many of them from Australia. This year, Sullivan filed for 225 H2B visas that are tied to a specific job. She also applied for 70 J1 visas that are applicable to students from the Southern Hemisphere.

Donna Mae Hoots, general manager of The Ranch at Steamboat, was typical of the employers who took part in last year’s job fair she and her management team were seeking to hire a dozen housekeepers, but most of the interest they were receiving was from people interested in working as van drivers. This year, Hoots said, she made up her mind in late summer not to take part in the job fair.

Part of her reasoning was a high percentage of last year’s workforce indicating it wanted to return. But the outlook for the coming ski season also entered into her decision.

“In light of the current travel trends after the Sept. 11 tragedy, we’re being very cautious regarding staffing,” Hoots said. “We will be able to use our current employees to staff our property until reservations pick up.”

Hoots manages 88 condominiums.

The ski area has not altered its pay scale this year, Sullivan said. However, it has changed the way it provides health benefits.

Last year, seasonal employees had access to the company’s group health plan.

This year, the ski area is imposing a 12-month waiting period essentially that means the new hires couldn’t access insurance purchased by the ski corp. until their second season on the job.

During the interim, the ski area is providing access to voluntary health benefits. The program allows new seasonal employees access to purchase affordable protection against accident and hospitalization, Sullivan said.


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