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Whistler-Blackcomb modifying employee recruitment strategy

Job fair will be later, competition for employees increasing Whistler-Blackcomb will be pushing its annual job fair farther back into the fall in an effort to shrink the lean period experienced by new recruits who have to shell out for rent several m

Job fair will be later, competition for employees increasing

Whistler-Blackcomb will be pushing its annual job fair farther back into the fall in an effort to shrink the lean period experienced by new recruits who have to shell out for rent several months before drawing a paycheque.

Last fall the Whistler-Blackcomb hiring blitz was held in the first half of October. Prospective employees were asked to apply online first, and encouraged to take advantage of an online job assessment feature to determine which jobs they were best suited for. Due to the efficiency of this system, the annual recruiting fair was reduced from four weeks to just two weeks.

This coming fall, however, will see the fair pushed back into the last two weeks of October, said Whistler-Blackcomb director of employee experience, Kirby Brown. And, for the following winter of 2002/2003, the fair will likely be held in November.

Brown said the mountains want to get the message out to prospective employees that they can come to the resort later in the season.

The mountains can afford do this because Whistler-Blackcomb can now guarantee all first-time employees accommodation, he said.

"Our hope is to educate the applicant pool so that they come to Whistler later so that those who show up and get hired can start work more quickly and therefore not spend as much on rent before they have an income and before the season opens."

Brown said bringing people into town in September only to start work in November and get a full paycheque in December contributes to a perception that Whistler may not be a fun place to work anymore and that the quality of life is poor.

"I think our people are still having a great time but I think it’s that early season experience we really need to take a look at." Brown said the mountains do dinners and have cheap movie deals for staff before they even begin to work. "But for employees who are here during the rainy season, spending money, not earning income with very few social outlets other than drinking or boozing, I think that perception could very well be true," he said.

"Our real push is to make it easier for them to come later and being able to guarantee housing is the first step."

However, those who do arrive later in the season and don’t make the cut as a mountain staffer may find themselves out in the cold hunting for a room in November. They may just leave town if they can’t secure that job-accommodation deal with Whistler-Blackcomb and this could have an impact on the smaller businesses in town also looking to draw from the annual applicant pool.

"Those who come and do not find a job with us will not be eligible for accommodation," noted Brown. "And for that, the community needs to get the overall housing situation resolved."

Brown said the mountains already noticed fewer people in town looking for work this season and that includes sought-after Australasians. Most local businesses attribute the drop in employees to a lack of housing but the demographic that usually services ski resorts is also shrinking and American resorts are aggressively targeting the same dwindling pool of employees.

"We are definitely seeing a diminishing applicant pool, which concerns us," Brown said. "But we had a lot of returning employees this year, which was great. If we didn’t have the returning employees, given the diminishing applicant pool, I think we would start to be in trouble."

Brown said U.S. resorts are aggressively competing for Australasian staff in particular. They generally come with a high level of maturity plus a post-secondary education.

At Whistler-Blackcomb, for example, 67 per cent of the Australasian employees have a post secondary education, noted Brown, compared to 14 per cent in that same demographic back home.

"I think what we are seeing is that the maturity of people travelling now is increasing and so their expectation for quality of life while they are here is also increasing," noted Brown. He said Australasians are here to party and have a good time. "But they are also here to have a life experience that meets their expectations and to have something to take back home and put on a résumé."

Brown said Vail sent recruiters to Australia for the first time this past season and so did Intrawest's U.S. counterparts. He said the Colorado resorts are now in a position to do this because they have been building their employee housing base over the last few years.

"American resorts are targeting that group and frankly, the Australasians are attracted by the ability to earn an American dollar versus the Canadian dollar. The U.S. resorts are also promising, now, all the things we had promised and they are able to deliver them, the largest of which is affordable accommodation."

Brown said Whistler-Blackcomb aims to stay competitive by using recruiters who are dedicated solely to opening up new applicant pools. One place the mountains are currently looking is Mount Currie.

"We want to work with Mount Currie to understand what we can do to make ourselves a more attractive employer to them."

Brown said the mountains are working with the band council and looking at training programs. "We are also going to have a pilot program running this winter." The program will introduce Mount Currie residents to different jobs. "It’ll be on a sort of ‘you try us out and we try you out’ basis," noted Brown. "Then we will move to a more formal and larger scale relationship."

The mountains will also do some "site-unseen" hiring of Australians, specifically ski instructors, next year. Applicants will be "pre-qualified" based on meeting specific criteria including a certain level of reference from their respective human resources departments.

Whistler merchants say they are having to dig deeper into their pockets to attract and retain good employees. Brown said Whistler-Blackcomb is also reviewing its wage and benefits packages.

"You will see some changes in the way we pay people," he noted. "We are looking at some creative ways to improve retention throughout the season and we are also looking at ways of effectively reducing the cost of living in town," he said.

"I think our rental housing structure is a big component of that as well as the discounts people receive off equipment and food and beverages."

The Whistler-Blackcomb staff social club also subsidizes things like movie and gym passes. "That is more of our approach."