Outlook 2012: Summer boosts the demand for seasonal employees
CAPITAL REGION Changing seasons mean changing employee rosters at several businesses in the Capital Region and North Country.
While the national economy remains soft and the job market tight, local companies still need extra hands during spring and summer. They're still hiring.
James Ross, Capital Region labor market analyst for the New York State Department of Labor, said seasonal jobs appear chiefly in two segments -- retail trade and leisure and hospitality. Retail trade numbers spike during late fall, when stores hire temporary help for the winter holidays. People who land jobs in the leisure and hospitality segment work during the summer months.
Statistics say the increases aren't that substantial. In 2007, Ross said, retail managers started autumn with 49,000 positions and ended the holiday shopping period with 52,400 jobs. Summer vacation seasons can bring more job openings; in April 2008, 33,100 jobs were reported for leisure and hospitality companies. The number was up to 37,700 by August.
"It's not a real seasonal area," Ross said of the Capital Region. "Something like Glens Falls is certainly much more seasonal; tourism is a much larger portion of their economy."
At The Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom in Queensbury, 1,500 people will be hired for seasonal jobs this year. Rebecca Close, communications manager for the Six Flags amusement park, said the number is consistent with the number of hires in past springs and summers.
"They're doing everything, from admissions at the front gate, we have games and rides, lifeguards, entertainment people, security, resource protection," Close said. "There are a number of different departments for all sorts of skill sets. We have a number of supervisor and lead positions; lead positions will lead a team within a specific department."
High school and college students and teachers -- all on summer break -- are among the candidates for jobs. So are retirees looking for extra income.
Close said people looking for work at the park should consult sixflagsjobs.com, which will list positions available. They should also fill out an employment application on the site.
"We also have a job fair early in the spring," Close said. "It's not set yet, but it's typically in March or April at the human resources building."
Job candidates participate in a series of interviews to let company officials see if they're a good fit for The Great Escape.
"We have a group interview where they interact with prospective team members, eight to 10 people led by a seasonal supervisor," Close said. "We get to see if their personalities are a good fit for the team."
Salaries begin above minimum wage, Close said, adding that some workers come back to the park every year.
"We have a great retention rate," Close said. "Our team members tell us they love working here. It's a fun atmosphere. Obviously, the No. 1 perk is that it's fun."
And while the number of hires has not changed, the number of people looking for positions has. Close has seen a longer line of prospective employees during the job fair. "It starts at 9 a.m. And we'll have a line out here as early as 7 a.m.," she said.
There is some urgency to the hiring proceedings. The Great Escape, which opens on a part-time basis in May, can't wait for high school and colleges to conclude fall semesters. They have to have staffers in place by early spring.
And just because someone doesn't land a job at the job fair, it doesn't mean he or she will never have a career at The Great Escape. "We are typically hiring all summer," Close said.
The eight-store Hewitt's garden center chain also needs extra staff for spring, summer and fall. Company spokesman Peter Bowden said when the weather becomes warmer, gardeners return to the soil for floral and vegetable projects and stores have to be ready. "It happens so quick in the garden industry," he said.
Each Hewitt's store will need an additional eight to 10 employees. "Mostly cashiers and in horticulture and nursery sales," Bowden said. "We load merchandise for everyone, kind of old school, make sure people get what they want, so we're loading bales of hay and bags of peat moss, jobs for high school students."
More people looking for jobs, Bowden said, ensures Hewitt's will find competent people for day-to-day operations.
"It definitely makes it easier to find help and better help," Bowden said. "There are just more people who are qualified."
He added that the company is always looking for people who are interested in the industry, people who might want to stay with the company after seasonal shifts have concluded.
Bowden suggested people interested in employment at Hewitt's drop off a resume at one of the company's stores. "If you've had some experience in garden retail sales, a resume to the main office (Charlton Road, Scotia) is not out of line."
Mark Lansing depends on seasonal employees for his business, Jumpin' Jack's drive-in restaurant in Scotia. He's hired between 30 and 40 people during the past few years.
"I think it's going to be the same or more this year," Lansing said. "It's just the way it usually works."
Jumpin' Jack's workers are between the ages of 16 and 60. Like the crew at The Great Escape, many of the Scotia hamburger flippers and milkshake makers come back every year.
"Everyone that worked last year is waiting for us to open up so they can come back to work," Lansing said, adding he guarantees jobs for people who want to come back. It's a smart business move, because the veterans already know the jobs.
"We plan a year ahead; we know who's not coming back," Lansing said. "Sometimes they change their mind and they come back and that's even better, because they're experienced people."
Lansing, who also starts his workers above minimum wage, doesn't make changes to his workforce during a recession. But he said he has to watch people on the other side of the counter.
"You have to be careful how you price things," he said. "Instead of coming in twice a week, they might only be able to come in once a week now," Lansing said.
Extra help is also needed during the summer at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in Troy, for the Tri-City ValleyCats.
Michelle Skinner, director of fan development for the New York-Penn League team, isn't looking for anyone to play center field or shortstop. She needs staff for the concession stands and front gate.
"We usually hire about 200 seasonal employees who work on game days and we have 38 home games from mid-June through early September," Skinner said.
Some people take tickets; others show baseball fans to their seats. The majority, Skinner said, are in food service -- the park has concession stands, vendors roving the stands and people selling snacks in a picnic area.
About three-quarters of the temporary workforce comes from local high schools. "We have a lot more people applying than we can hire," Skinner said. "We try to be loyal to the people who have been here since the beginning. We have kind of a low turnover rate."
This year will represent the team's 11th season in Troy, Skinner said. Sometimes, young men and women who leave high school and college and then land jobs that better fit their educations will recommend younger brothers or sisters for their old baseball jobs -- "which could be good or could be bad, depending on the older sibling," Skinner said.
Like other employers, the ValleyCats want prospective staff members to fill out applications. But Skinner said people looking for summer jobs are also encouraged to visit the stadium and introduce themselves.
"A lot of what we do is customer-related," Skinner said. "We're looking for personal people who are willing to chat. It helps to see that up front."