Economy sends many to ski areas in search of jobs
By Brent Curtis
Staff Writer | October 18,2009
LUDLOW — Twenty-five-year-old Nate Keefe received his degree in business management in 2005, but Saturday he was applying for a job in Okemo ski area's rental repair shop to help make ends meet.
"The economy has been kind of horrible, so I need something to do until it turns around," said the Bellows Falls man who is hoping to work weekends on the mountain to balance out his other part-time job as a substitute teacher.
Johann Jorgo, 61, can relate to the waiting game Keefe is playing.
The self-employed watch repairman from Proctorsville said business hasn't been booming since the recession started.
"Who is going to pay $1,000 on watch repairs right now?" he said.
Jorgo said he gets by largely on the paychecks brought home by his girlfriend. To pay some bills and to finance a love of skiing he can no longer afford, Jorgo was filling out an application at Okemo to work as either a ski or skate instructor or in the ski and snowboard shop.
"I've sold $80,000 cars, I think I can sell skis," he said.
The situations that Jorgo and Keefe find themselves in are signs of the time — signs made even more obvious by the sheer number of people seeking seasonal employment not only at Okemo, but at every other ski resort in Vermont this year.
As inevitable as the seasons are the annual job fairs held by Vermont ski areas that typically double or triple their number of employees each winter to run their resorts.
In temporary demand are not only snowmakers, ski instructors, groomers, wait staff and the like, but also accountants, managers, communications directors, marketing staff and others whose positions require advanced degrees.
During economic booms, the resorts need to look far and wide — often employing large numbers of foreign workers — to fill all their positions. But that's not the case during this ongoing economic recession that has raised unemployment and underemployment rates statewide.
Keefe and Jorgo were among a throng of roughly 300 applicants who showed up at Okemo halfway through the four-hour job fair on the mountain Saturday, according to Human Resources Vice President Crystal Stokarski.
"I know that number is up from last year and way up from two years ago," she said.
Stokarski was too busy Saturday to look over the qualifications of those applying for jobs, but Okemo spokeswoman Bonnie MacPherson said she knows firsthand just how overqualified many of the job-seekers are.
"The guy I have coming back to do the snow report in our communications coordinator position has a master's degree," she said. "He's better qualified to do my job than I am."
"We're seeing a lot of people right out of college with degrees who are just trying to get experience to build a resume. That's what people need right now. They're willing to work a seasonal job because they need the experience to give them the edge in a tight job market," MacPherson said.
Okemo isn't the only mountain seeing highly qualified candidates in higher numbers than usual.
At Sugarbush ski area in Warren, Communications Director JJ Toland said Friday that the volume of candidates prompted his resort to expand from its usual number of three job fairs to seven such events this year.
"We had so many people show up last year that we added additional dates this year," Toland said. "We didn't want it to resemble speed dating. We want to take our time to sit down and have a conversation with applicants."
The resort has held only one of its job fairs so far this year, but the number of applicants was telling, Toland said.
"Our former (human resources) director was ecstatic when 40 people showed up," he said. "Last year, we had 100 in a day. This year, we had 140 on our first day."
Tom Horrocks, spokesman for Killington resort, which held its first job fair of the season Saturday, said he expects the number of job-seekers to be higher this year as workers laid off last year approach the end of their unemployment benefits.
"I think our numbers are going to be a lot higher this year in terms of applicants," he said Friday. "Last year, even though we had been in a recession for a couple of months, we weren't seeing the layoffs and the full effect of the bad economy yet. There's a lot of talent in the labor pool right now. It's fortunate for us but definitely a sign of the times."