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Cool Works Needs a Hand: Ideas About Regional Employer Co-Operatives?

Hey Folks,

This is Bill, founder of Cool Works. I'm sitting on a panel at Jackson Lake Lodge in a couple of weeks and need some help from you, the heroes.

We five Cool Works employees put in a good bit of seasonal time before we got this thing going. We've pumped gas, waited tables, driven buses and boats and made beds. We've done the double-seasonal thing and struggled to find a way to stay in the great places that attracted us. We've brain-stormed over the years about whether there is a way that Cool Works can help passionate and talented people patch together more of a career path among multiple employers in a particular region. Can you imagine, or have you experienced, anything like a “Co-Op” of winter and summer employers that actively work together to hold seasonal talent in a particular region? In a perfect world such a group of employers would orchestrate benefits, training, housing and foster the growth and development of a regional talent pool.

My angle at this conference is to speculate on what seasonal employees are looking for in Greater Yellowstone, and how many employees might commit to a year-round contract if a variety of work experiences, education and housing were all part of the package. I hope we have a lively discussion among the employers there, but what will be missing is YOUR thoughts on this notion.

Please weigh in if you have any thoughts or experiences to share. I'd love to be able to bring some insights from you folks on the front-line.

Many thanks,


P.S. - LOVE all the buzz on MyCoolWorks of people traveling to and starting work. Makes me want to hit the road.

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Hi Bill, I think this is a fabulous discussion thread. One thing that would help me consider spending significant time here in the region is my own room. I'd love to do some cross training, and activities in slow periods. I've only been on site a week, and all is going great.
Maybe CW could become the placement/referral source for any companies that are willing to get on board with it. You could start accumulating a database of all the workers who have found jobs through this site and note how well they held up their contracts. CW could then place those most suited to represent your company best at participating sites. I'm sure it would take a bit of communication between CW and the hiring companies, but I believe this would give those of us who have a real passion to make a career of this type of employment a better shot at doing so in the future.

The selling point could be that you're taking the leg work out of each company scrambling to find employees that are responsible season after season.

CW could also charge a fee to each worker for placement. (I know I would not mind forking out a bit of dough to know that I have work waiting for me in cool places in the future :)
Hey Bill .... first and foremost let me thank you for Cool Works! The web site definitely played a role in providing me a job opportunity this summer, and was much needed good news after the ordeal of a sudden layoff. The idea of regional co-ops probably apply more to the young people out there wanting to fashion a career path. For me, I am looking for interesting work in great places to complement a 34 year career in an office environment. I actually would prefer to go to different regions year-to-year for as long as folks will hire me. I think most employers will tend to focus on labor cost, with acceptable quality, as their main driver. So the co-op idea has to provide a financial incentive to really take hold. I am skeptical it would be more financially attractive to the employers than the current system. Just my 2 cents.
I believe it is a good idea. I can see it actually getting employers more loyal and committed workers, and save some of the work/cost related to the hiring process. It also would take some of the employee uncertainty out of the process. The companies seem to do their hiring when each one has their inclination to do so. Consequently an employee has to decide if they should take the first job offered, or wait until the place they want to be is hiring. I am not sure if you are thinking of fitting into the employment agency role, or just how you percieve it, but it does look like the process could be improved for all ages of people wanting to participate in the seasonal work force experience.
I think as much as we, the folks who love this type of lifestyle, like to ramble and wander we also (secretly) like some stability as well. Even though this is my first seasonal job I worked retail for years because it allowed me to go where I wanted to go. The great thing about retail was that I came and went on my time. There wasn't a "season". I have a list of places I want to live and work in over the next few years. Staying in one region isn't nearly as big a deal to me as being able to be prepared to start the next job. Knowing ahead of time when and where that job will be. It allows me to bum around for a few weeks before I go back to "home" and rest up.

When I leave Montana at the end of September I plan on seeing if anyone needs a ride to the east coast and then enjoying the fall colors as I travel down that coast stopping in places like Nantucket and if I get a chance stopping by Walden Lake.

I'm rambling, which fits, but my point is as I make that road trip down the east coast it would be nice to know that come December I have a job waiting in Wyoming, California, Utah, or back in Montana. Let the Co-Op, which is a fabulous idea, work towards a proactive planning ability for the seasonal employee.

I doubt I ever settle down in one place for a long, long, time; and talking about stability at the same time may seem convoluted but that need is there.
This is a great idea! As someone who's worked seasonal awhile, and especially since I've had some stability in Yellowstone in the past, I love the idea of a co-op. I love getting to see new places, meet new people, and yet I also long to have a bit more of a "home" than bouncing around gives me...also, money-wise, I pretty much have to be figuring out before I even take the job, just what kind of money I'll have available to spend and what to save, so I can pay my way to my next job. I'm concerned with the rising costs of transportation, increased regulations as to what can be packed and where, when I'm flying, and the increased costs of room and board. I understand the need of the employers to make their profit... that's why they are in business, not only to serve the great guests that come and enjoy them but to make money as well. I'm excited to start my new job in Alaska for this summer.... I also know that, unfortunately, my financial needs, though I don't have many bills and my needs aren't currently complex, have reached a point where, if the cost of room/board is too much, I can't afford to take the job....and since I don't drive, that's another limitation on this gal who wants to expand her boundaries :)
....One thing I loved about Yellowstone was that the company I worked for had a policy that, if the seasonal business levels demanded severe cuts in hours, then room and board charges were didn't have to worry about having a 0-dollar or negative-dollar paycheck.

...Again, about Yellowstone... I LOVED the fact that there were educational opportunities provided by the Yellowstone Association, through Xanterra, to Xanterra's employees (hopefully other companies' employees too). The Yellowstone Degree program, the free YA tours, the ranger walks (NPS), and talks and seminars were amazing! I am deeply passionate about learning more about the earth and all of its living beings and environs... And through things like these, have come to develop that interest. What a fabulous investment in employees by the part of the YA and companies like Xanterra! You bet I'd love to get into a year-round situation. I'd especially love it if some easier way of transportation could be found...some employers in the Greater Yellowstone area do offer pick-up/drop-off at beginning and end of season... I do wish more of them did! I'd so love to bring my years of work experience, love of the outdoors, and willingness to come into the new job willing to start afresh, to many of the area's employers. I long for some sense of home and continuity and stability.... and I know it'd make things easier on the employers if they didn't have so much re-training and replacing of incoming employees to do. I want to be in on the great discussion of advocating creative solutions that provide win-win solutions for both the employers and the employees (which I fully believe then greatly benefits the guests)...
It'd also be fantastic if there was some way to work towards the goal of affordable, basic health care coverage for us seasonals. I know that's a loaded phrase and not an easy topic... I just know I worry about being healthy and I'd really like to be able to afford more frequent check-ups and etc.

I've got a lot to say, I know. :) Thanks to you and Kari and everyone here for providing such a supportive atmosphere and a great site!!!

just to add: Connie has a great thought too... about how bumpy knowing which job to take can be.

Also I think there are just too many things with fees and costs these days..I'd hate to have to add that in on top of everything else when trying to figure out where to work... But the idea of looking at employers' getting gain from this, to me, is good... I believe some of those gains cannot be quantified... improved guest service can lead to better sales, but sometimes it's just more of a general sense of "this is a great place". In a dollar-starving economy, I'm very concerned that employers will, as many do, cut returners who might get a little more $$, in favor of "cheaper" first-timers. I'm willing to work for the going rate, pretty long as I can AFFORD to.... and to me, coming home without any $$ saved, or barely being able to scrape out enough to get home or to the next job, could become a real issue.
Xanterra has a "core crew" deal going on that allows the employees to transfer to and from various properties. Some here were off for a week before starting on their next assignment although I am unsure of the various full-time benefits the employees receive.
To me, the best benefit is a good income. Little can substitute for that, even a great season because it is highly restricting to be broke. One simply can't accomplish much without the means to pay for it in this society. College, Health insurance, a decent retirement, purchase of a house (or for me, a cabin in Alaska) ... all of these important factors require a decent income. As one gets older these factors become very important. Because of what I do I can have a chance at making that kind of $$$ but most don't because of low wages.
I respectfully disagree with charging those who are looking for work... that would ruin this site. Remember, if people are in the process of looking for employment, they might be on a very tight budget because they are unemployed. I have specifically not joined jobsites because thay charge the employee... Remember that time we talked about Cooljobs when you were in Alaska? They are a failure for good reason....
I like the idea.
One concept...whether one gets hired by resume or right off the street, you have to be invited (back) to make a career after demonstrating your service meets a minimum standard. Once in, you may get transferred for place to place each season with pay and benefits serving as an incentive and quality performance rewarded.
It's a two-way street. If employers bennefit from consistent quality service then pay and stability are the employee pay back.
Bill, I realize this is months after your meeting at JLL. With Jackson Lake Lodge being a part of Grand Teton Lodge Company, which is part of Rock Resorts, Vail Corporation, actually GTLC already does this. In August (close to their season end) they hold a job fair at JLL and different resorts come and try to recruit employees for the winter season. Of course, most of them are Vail properties, which is not a bad thing. They do make the offer to their seasonal employees that if they make the transfer to one of their winter resorts, all of the hours we earned during the season will go toward their retirement, etc. You carry all hours with you then real benefits start. The ONE big draw back to staying with Vail (GTLC) is the fact that in the Grand Teton National Park the employees are provided room and board, free laundry, free linens, etc. for a fairly nominal fee, whereas if you transfer to one of Vail's properties in Colorado or New Mexico, there is no room and board furnished. You would make a fairly small salary, then have to pay rent (if you could find a place to live), and buy all groceries, etc. It really does not make it worthwhile unless you can get by on a tiny amount of money. If you have any pull or can make recommendations to this company, let them know how beneficial it would be to provide employee housing at their Vail properties in Colorado.
Thanks for that NJL,

Xanterra, too, has summer and winter operations and facilitates some of this within the organization. Thanks for the details on Vail/GTLC.
Bill, How did the meeting in May go? If you've made any posts about it, I haven't seen it.
Hey NJL,

I was part of a panel discussion that covered several topics - from this Co-Op notion to the pros and cons of plowing the road to Old Faithful in the winter. I painted a general picture of the concept and we discussed the Co-Op concept for awhile and then moved on. The seed was planted but the sense was that there were more obstacles than benefits perceived. I don't see any formal efforts coming anytime soon.

Many seasonal employers continue to maintain close relationships with opposite-season properties for the purposes of helping employees find work and for employers to be able to keep the best skilled help. I expect that's the level at which this will continue. I'd love to hear about any other creative arrangements that you folks know of out there.


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