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Fishing trips go 'cross-country for jobs Larger employers seek skills to top-up needs By Chris Woodall Two signs that the job search scene in Whistler has changed from previous years is the much smaller size of the turnout to the annual job fair and the air miles put in by major employers to get the right people. The fourth annual job fair, Oct. 26-27, had a lineup of 17 employers in the job pool, but only 500 "anglers" attended to try their luck, down from the 1,000 that baited their hook with résumés at last year's event. Most of the jobs available were for entry-level positions. Employers keeping to that level of warm body made out okay, but employers hoping to bite onto someone with more expertise found they were left high and dry. One company wanted an esthetician for its salon, but was so disgusted it came up empty it didn't even want to be quoted for this story. Larger companies with the resources to swim farther declared themselves adequately successful, if not overwhelmed. "We weren't too successful," says Hard Rock Café manager Doug Penny of his company's involvement at the trade fair. "We couldn't find enough capable servers." This did not match Penny's own experience with the job fair. "I was hired for a job here through the job fair two years ago," he says. "I remember having to wait two hours for an interview." And while the Hard Rock got 30 applications this year, a change in hiring strategy to cut training costs means many of them are no good. "We need a year of solid high-volume experience," the manager says of his popular rock ’n' roll burger joint. "We have 130 staff at peak season." The Hard Rock Café estimates it spent $300,000 in training costs last year. Two or three times a year it has a massive training orientation involving 50 employees who go through four-hour orientation sessions and five to six weeks of training shifts. "So there's quite a bit of money spent doing that," Penny says. Imagine cutting just one of those training extravaganzas from the cost side of the balance sheet. The Hard Rock is turning to youth employment programs that subsidize half an employee's salary for people who have decided to make a career of the restaurant business. The best scenario is to bring in people to entry-level positions like bussing tables, then bring them up to serving or bartending or cooking positions, Penny says. These are people who stay with the company, saving it training time and those related costs. Accommodation is the boogieman that may be scaring potential employees away. "It's the biggest thing for people we have wanted to hire," Penny says. "We require a phone number because it's the essence of getting in touch with them, but the applicants find themselves couch surfing and can't give us a definite phone number. "So we lose some good people." Some job fair employers did well. "I got more than I expected at it," Karen Furlotte of Fairways Hotel says of her applicants. The front desk, night audit and bell person the Fairways hired fills its hiring needs for now. This is the hotel's first shot at the job fair. Whistler/Blackcomb had its own job fair, but extended its local "Hire Ground" employment foraging another 10 days to the end of October. It also added air miles to its foray to Toronto to include Ottawa and Halifax to search for suitable employees. The result was kind of a "let's beat the competitors to the punch." "A lot would be coming here anyway so this gave us a shot at the best employees," says Gord Ahrens, director of Whistler/Blackcomb employee experience. "We're done for the moment," Ahrens says. The company scooped 100 hires in its eastern adventure. From the eastern Canadian employees' perspective, they don't have to be here until Dec. 15 and will have accommodation waiting for them when they arrive, perhaps in the new 129-bed rental building nearing completion in the Blackcomb staff housing complex. At peak season, Whistler/Blackcomb will have 2,700 paid employees, Ahrens says. The need for employees never stops as the company will add employees in December, lay some off at the beginning of January, 1998, then top up the payroll through the rest of the ski season as needed. "There's always a continuous flow of jobs," Ahrens says, noting that the company currently needs a manager for the new adventure centre as well as several ski instructors. Also changing the rules of job hunting is the Chateau Whistler, which is focusing on the country's universities and colleges that offer courses or programs in hospitality, says Carole Gosse, director of human resources. Why waste time on Joe or Jill Schmoe who's more interested in being a ski or snowboard bum, than on Reagan or Meagan Doe who is training to enter hotel management or some other facet of that service industry, is the way Gosse would explain it. Several post-secondary institutions — some in the Lower Mainland, but especially the ones in Ontario — have co-op programs that are keen to supply students for the 5.5 months of the hotel's peak season as part of the college program. "There's a lot of training that goes on at the Chateau," Gosse says. "I'd rather invest my training dollar in university co-op hospitality people who want to make this their career." And yes, they are paid for their time. Another source for Chateau employees is to convince them to come to Whistler from other Canadian Pacific properties that are summer-only, such as the Algonquin Hotel in New Brunswick. Gosse borrowed six staff from there. "They can go back next summer, but some don't want to go back and forth," Gosse says. At least they won't go over to the enemy. "Instead of losing them to the Hyatt, we'll keep them in the company," Gosse says. While the Chateau didn't hold a job fair in Whistler, it did have one in Moncton, N.B., and another in St. John's, Newfoundland. "They are depressed areas, but these people want to work," Gosse says. "I'm really going out to find talent," Gosse says. "Human resources doesn't work from a desk."