Companies are preparing for what should be an even busier summer than last year, and they are looking for new ways to bring in seasonal workers.
While the seasonal nature of Northern Michigan’s tourism industry begins to stabilize, with more interest in fall and winter activities, a significant portion of the region’s annual trade still takes place during the summer. This means that summer workers are an important part of the regional economy. Due to the temporary nature of the positions, most jobs are reserved for high school and college students.
That’s why companies like Stafford’s Hospitality and The Belvedere Club in Charlevoix are visiting schools and colleges to tell students about summer opportunities.
Stafford’s tries to recruit students around the age of 14 or 15 so that they can spend their high school and college summers in various hospitality positions.
“We want to keep them engaged in the way of working in hospitality,” said Stafford chairman Brian Ewbank. “We usually start them very young and we try to get them to work in buses and catering or maybe baggage handlers or that kind of thing and progress them through their school careers and do many different jobs in the industry. hospitality industry. As we have both hotels and restaurants, we keep them engaged and don’t have the same job every summer over and over again.
Stafford’s offers summer internships for college students, including housing, which it markets to colleges around the state. Another way to attract seasonal employees is to participate in the J-1 Visitor Exchange Program through Bridge USA, which brings students from other countries to work and travel in the United States during their summer vacations.
Stafford’s employs and hosts the students for the summer and this year will welcome 17 students from Romania and Turkey. This is the first time Stafford’s will participate in the program in two years due to COVID-19.
The Club Belvédère de Charlevoix is another company that tries to bring in students who will come back every summer break. The club visits schools to talk to students about summer opportunities, has an employee referral program where employees can get $150 for suggesting Belvedere as a good place for summer jobs, and offers scholarships to students who have worked at the club for three or more years.
The four-year renewable scholarships are awarded through the Charlevoix County Community Foundation and can be used at any university the student wishes to attend as long as they are a full-time student. This offer is also extended to the children of full-time employees.
The number of students accepting scholarships varies from year to year, as does the amount of the scholarship, which comes from an endowment fund and a grant fund through the community foundation. to which club members contribute. According to general manager David Gray, this year the club is trying to make the average purse $2,8000 to $3,000 per person per year.
These efforts, in addition to flexible hours, have been quite successful in attracting seasonal workers, Gray said.
“We know a lot of these kids have extracurricular activities going on all summer, so we try to work with them as best we can,” he said. “We will also be training so if we have someone working on the youth activity program we can bring them in. If they want overtime we will bring them into the dining hall or cooking around the golf course. Those who want a lot of hours we try to accommodate that, those who want restrictions we’ll take that as well. So I think all of these companies have probably found out that there needs to be be flexible these days.
While Belvedere has been fortunate to be almost fully staffed during their peak seasons in recent years, Stafford’s Hospitality has had to make adjustments to hours to compensate for its reduced staff.
Before the pandemic, Stafford employed about 435 people in mid-summer. Last year, during the high season, there were 280 employees, a reduction of almost half.
This reduction in staff has been accompanied by an increase in tourism as people wanted to leave their homes during the pandemic, which has forced Stafford’s to adapt by closing for some lunches and closing early so that staff are not work overload. The hotels were unable to book all the rooms because there were not enough housekeeping staff to clean them in time.
Now, with COVID-19 restrictions easing, this summer should be just as busy, if not busier. Ben Slocum, co-owner of Beard’s Brewery and board member of the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber and other organizations have been trying to move Petoskey toward a more stable economy all year.
“The goal was to stretch our year as much as possible and bring a balance between the dregs of winter and the absolute craziness of summer,” Slocum said. “And we’ve made pretty good progress in that area, but the lack of housing is starting to have a pretty significant impact. So we need a lot more staff in the summer months, just because there are more people here asking for more services. So we are doing everything we can to hire.
Beards summer employees are usually students, but Slocum said the brewery tries to focus on keeping its employees year-round with good pay, benefits and reasonable hours.
“Morale can get quite low during the summer months,” Slocum said. “We ran fewer hours. I think almost everyone in Petoskey was running fewer hours or days or shutting down as needed because people were sick or just didn’t have enough staff. So for those who are still there, it’s a bit brutal. Just during this summer, try to meet the demand and maintain (the) rhythm.
As at Stafford, Beards has changed its hours to meet staff’s need for rest. Hiring seasonal employees and even new year-round employees is made more difficult by the lack of workforce housing in Northern Michigan, which is why companies like Stafford offer housing to exchange students and summer interns.
For companies that can’t afford to house employees, it can be difficult to find incentives that will attract seasonal labor, which is why so many rely on college and high school students. .
Despite staff shortages, businesses are gearing up for what looks to be a successful summer. Ewbank is confident people will visit Northern Michigan. He said current gas prices are actually helping Stafford businesses because high flight prices would encourage people downstate to vacation up north.
“Airline tickets are going up and everything else is going up,” Ewbank said. “People always get their gas tank and drive somewhere, and we’re perfect for that. (Those in) the downstate and surrounding areas, they will still make this trip.