Summit towns reassess recruitment for seasonal employees amid workforce shortage
Memorial Day is fast approaching, and Summit County’s towns are seemingly in a race against the clock to try to fill seasonal staffing positions before the peak tourist season arrives.
But with “help wanted” signs still dangling in the windows of restaurants and shops around the county, the towns are finding it difficult to attract enough workers to their summer positions. Frisco officials broached the topic during the town’s regular work session discussion Tuesday, May 11, noting that the town has a considerable staffing shortage heading into the summer season. And Frisco isn’t the only town struggling to bring in new workers.
“We are not the only ones, and we are all sadly battling for a small pool of employees for seasonal operations,” Frisco Mayor Hunter Mortensen said.
Frisco’s interim Town Manager Jeff Durbin said the town is short 50 seasonal employees for jobs with the Frisco Bay Marina, youth camps, special events and the public works department, among others. If the roles aren’t filled, Frisco could begin to consider changes to its operations around town, including switching up the level and hours of service, to address the workforce shortage.
Durbin said the town’s goal is to avoid making any of those tough decisions. The Frisco Town Council gave town staff direction to begin working on raising starting wages for seasonal staff to make the jobs more attractive. Frisco’s starting wages for its seasonal positions are in the $12.50 to $13.75 range, according to the town’s current job listings, though some of the higher-level positions pay up to $17.32 an hour.
“We’re having a conversation about changing our recruiting and looking at increasing the starting rate for those seasonal employees so we can be more competitive and have a better chance of filling those positions,” Durbin said. “… The goal is really to have these positions filled before Memorial Day. We really need to start moving expeditiously to take some new strategies to recruit people.”
Durbin said Frisco has also thrown around ideas internally like offering hiring or end-of-season bonuses. He said the town is looking at the problem through a more holistic lens, working with business owners to find ways to incentivize employees to come to town and find opportunities with private and public enterprises.
Silverthorne has also struggled to bring on seasonal staff for this summer. Spokesperson Kim Jardim said the town has eight seasonal positions open but has received just one application, adding that the town has even had difficulty finding applicants for full-time positions with benefits. She noted that Silverthorne was also having internal conversations about potential wage increases, hiring bonuses and other solutions.
Breckenridge spokesperson Haley Littleton said hiring summer staff has been a challenge on the south side of the county, as well.
“The town of Breckenridge hires the most seasonal positions during our summer season, so it is always a challenge to find enough seasonal staff to fill our positions each year,” Littleton wrote in an email. “We hire seasonal positions at the Breckenridge Golf Course, public works and recreation center, too. This year, however, with the shortage of an available seasonal workforce in Summit County, we feel the strain that all businesses are feeling in finding employees. We are certainly not immune from the effects of this on our staffing needs.”
Raising wages could help the issue. Last month, the Dillon Town Council agreed to increase the starting wages for seasonal workers from $13.50 to $15 per hour. During a work session last week, Town Manager Nathan Johnson lamented that the increase might not have had as big an impact as expected, with 16 open positions at the Dillon Marina alone.
But those numbers have quickly changed. Kerstin Anderson, Dillon’s marketing and communication’s director, said Wednesday that of the town’s 71 seasonal positions — including the marina, public works and event staff — the town has only five more to fill.
Despite some success of late, Dillon is likely to take other tactics in addition to wage increases to ensure it’s able to continue recruiting and retaining employees. Johnson floated some ideas to the Town Council last week, including offering $100 bonuses for every 160 hours worked, allowing employees to accrue two hours of paid time off for every 30 hours worked, offering paid time off upon hiring and other bonuses that would allow the employees to take advantage of the area’s amenities.
“We’re going to make it work,” Anderson said. “… Our seasonal workers are a really important piece of our experience and economy up here, and I think it’s time we sort of reevaluate how those employees are compensated. Hopefully, we’ll see a change for the better, and hopefully that corresponds to more applicants coming through the door.”
While towns around the area try to address the worker shortage in the short term, all agreed that bigger steps would have to be taken in the future to help improve options for employees, particularly in the realm of attainable housing.
“It’s pretty dire,” Jardim said. “… In all sectors — private, nonprofit, municipalities — everyone is hiring and having trouble finding employees. We suspect that has a few causes, certainly the housing crisis. It’s always been a bit of a crisis here, but it’s certainly risen to a new level with the pandemic and the exodus of people from the cities buying up mountain properties and driving the prices of those properties up. It’s been a real challenge for local folks to find housing. Certainly our town staff, staff throughout the county and at the county level are very well aware of that issue and are working hard on finding solutions.”
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