When summer hiring hits, employers scramble to offer competitive wages while keeping an eye on those with training under their belts.
Despite the state minimum wage and federal wage increases and the national immigration reform debate, employers in Colorado Springs could be in a tight spot when hiring summer staffers, especially seasonal workers, becasue of a shortage of skilled applicants.
If the new minimum wage rate of $6.85 seems generous for high-school-age employees, it might surprise many employers that there is an exception for workers younger than 18.
“If the employee is under 18, not emancipated, the employer does not have to pay the $6.85 (state minimum) per hour, just $5.82,” said Jeanne Cotter, public information officer for the Pikes Peak Workforce Center. “I am not sure many employers are aware of the exemptions form the wage order. However, this may be an advantage for some of our young people who are looking for work.”
Business consultants at the PPWFC said the federal minimum wage increase, which was signed into law June 1, is not as much a factor in the hiring process as is the shortage of qualified people.
Cotter said the unemployment rate for El Paso County in April was 3.7 percent, compared 4.5 percent a year ago.
“If a person is able, available, and actively seeking work, they should be able to find a job although maybe not at the wage they desire or the wage they were making at their last job,” Cotter said.
According to the American Staffing Association, slower economic growth in 2007 could reduce demand for staffing services. In a March membership survey, nearly three in 10 respondents (28 percent) said “labor shortage” was one of the top three issues facing the industry.
It is all about skill, and staffing services keep that in the foreground when finding the right employee for the job.
Many business owners are concerned about staying competitive, and this comes into play when workers who do have the skills want higher salaries.
“Recruiting is harder because some people are paying three or four dollars above the minimum wage,” said Christina Escobar, office manager at SOS Staffing Services.
SOS Staffing focuses on skilled trades, such as welders and electrical assemblers, but it also places those interested in light industrial work. For example, Escobar said, many students are placed with a company that requires them to unload office furniture.
Focus on local
Another factor business owners encounter is trying to find local workers.
Donna Frost, human resource director at Cheyenne Mountain Resort, said they are working on creative recruitment to “try to bring it home so to speak as much as possible.”
“It is definitely a challenge,” she said. Frost has some creative recruitment plans in place for next year such as branching out to the disabled and internships with local universities as well as interns from across the country.
Brett Vonacare and LeAnne Johnston, both seasonal workers, were hired at Cheyenne Mountain Resort as interns through the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Professional Golf Management Program. The program requires participation in three internships and three years of testing in preparation for a career in the golf industry.
She also said they try to keep the wages competitive even for employees under age 18.
“We try to stick with 18 and over,” Frost said. “We do have some between 16 and 18, but we choose to pay them at the same entry level weight that we pay everybody else.”
And peak season from April to December is not always easy to fill.
“I think what is hard to fill is seasonal positions because people don’t want to take a job for six months or eight months,” Frost said. “That’s why the H-2B program works because bring them in for that amount of time.”
This year Frost said they scaled back the program in order to focus more on attracting local employees.
“In the past they have brought in close to 100 (with the H2B visa program), we scaled back to 56 this year and really pushed and pushed and got people from the local area,” Frost said.
Looking beyond local
When local recruitment efforts slow, business owners boost their help wanted numbers by hiring foreign workers. This is done through the H-2B visa program, a non-immigrant guest worker program for seasonal needs.
Members of the Colorado Employers for Immigration Reform want changes made to the visa programs for temporary seasonal laborers and agricultural workers. The proposal is currently being debated in the Senate.
The immigration reform debate is on the radar of Cindy Clark, director of human resources at The Broadmoor Hotel.
This summer, Clark said, the resort has 270 employees working through the H-2B visa program. Most are from Jamaica, she said, and many are returning workers.
With the visas, they are allowed to stay a maximum of 10 months.
“They are able when they return, if you will, to hit the ground running with their skills,” Clark said.
This year, all the H-2B workers were supposed to arrive in April, however, Clark said many are still arriving.
Cheyenne Mountain Resort had the same problem nearly leaving them in a tight bind during busy season, Frost said.
The Broadmoor has between 1,200 and 1,300 employees and hires 500 for the peak season — April through December.
“It’s a great challenge to find people,” Clark said. About 165 openings still need to be filled.
“A lot of these jobs are physically demanding like cleaning hotel rooms, making beds, mowing the grass, washing laundry and washing dishes,” Clark said. “Can’t robotize that and certainly can’t outsource that.”