Hospitality industry hiring again

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Hotels and others in the tourism business are hiring again, the latest sign of a recovering economy.

That’s good news for anyone looking for work. The bad news is that a stubbornly high unemployment rate has put hospitality-industry employers firmly in the driver’s seat.

In 2006 and ‘07, jobs would go unfilled. Today, applications are piling up faster than human resource managers can read them. Not just that, but the job-seekers have tended to be older, have far more experience and are willing to work for less. Once hired, employees are having to work harder and cross-train within departments.

All of this could change if the economy takes off. For now, however, it’s an employer’s market in the hospitality world — and the industry isn’t exactly complaining about it.

More hiring is under way because business is up.

Large-group hotel bookings have increased, and occupancy rates last month rose 2.7 percent while room rates increased 15 cents over last March.

There are an estimated 14,000 hospitality jobs in the Pikes Peak region.

Hotels large and small are hiring, as are many of the region’s destinations.

No one tracks exact figures but a Business Journal check of 10 hospitality businesses in the area showed that each was hiring from a handful of people to up to 50 staffers.

Swamped with applications

Two years ago, Elaine Hofmann, general manager of both the Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites by Hilton North, felt lucky to receive 10 applications per week.

These days, she’s averaging 50 to 60 applications per week — not that she needs nearly that many.

“But it gives me a nice pool to choose from,” Hofmann said. “We’re getting the cream of the crop.”

The story’s similar on the west side, at Old Town GuestHouse, a bed-and-breakfast. Co-owner Don Wick said the inn has been “absolutely inundated” with applications.

“In the past, we always had to advertise — now they just come to us,” Wick said.

The story’s the same from small, family-owned boutique hotels to large resort hotels.

In March, The Broadmoor hotel had 57 job openings — and received 890 applications.

In downtown Colorado Springs, the Antlers Hilton Hotel receives about 125 applications per week — double what it has received in prior years. Cheyenne Mountain Resort receives 35 to 50 applications per day.

Older applicants

Not only are job-seekers nearly breaking down doors to apply, but their average age is much older than a few years ago.

In Manitou Springs at the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, Retail Manager Andra Martin said many of the applications for positions in the café and retail shop are from people over of 50.

“We used to have 16-year-olds in the café; now the average age is 22 or 23. In the retail shop, the average age is 50-plus,” Martin said.

Others in the industry are seeing the same trend — older people applying for entry-level positions.

Experience levels are much higher, too.

“We certainly see more people who have bachelor’s degrees applying for positions that don’t require degrees,” said Dani Ewen, director of human resources for Cheyenne Mountain Resort.

“We have line chefs who’ve been at (resort hotels) for 10 years applying to assemble sandwiches in a café,” Martin said.

Experienced workers, employers said, have better people skills and recognize the necessity of dress codes and codes of conduct. Some employers are only too happy to hire baby boomers — after all, they aren’t sporting blue hair or multiple piercings.

“When they (Generation Y) come in for an interview looking like they’re dressed for bed and complaining about their last job — I know this is the best it’s ever going to be (with them), and it will go downhill from here,” Martin said.

Although she was initially hesitant to hire “overqualified” people, they’ve turned out to be hard-working and grateful to have a job.

Willing to work for less

Cindy Johnson, director of human resources at The Broadmoor, said she’s seen her share of job-seekers who were laid off from supervisory or management positions.

At Seven Falls and South Cheyenne Canyon, people who apply for maintenance and retail positions are not only overqualified but “willing to work for a lot less than what they were making in their previous jobs,” said Ute Cockrell, director of operations.

“I guess with the economy being a little bad, they (feel fortunate) to have a job,” Cockrell said.

Hiring expectations have changed, too.

“From a talent standpoint, we’re looking for people who can multi-task,” Antlers Hotel General Manager Allen Paty said.

That means, for instance, that a room-service attendant also needs to be able to bartend.

“It’s a reflection of the industry recovering from the economy,” Paty said.