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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,

Bill

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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Some winter ranches have kind of a co-op arrangement with some summer ranches. Not so much for offering extra benefits to the workers. But horses move and there are some employees that have more of an 'in' when it comes to hiring too.

For example, the Kay El Bar in Arizona has arrangements with Lake Mancos Ranch in Colorado. In mid-May, several of Kay El Bar's horses get a Colorado adventure and late September they return with several of their Lake Mancos buddies. It serves the businesses in several ways...the biggest is they don't have to feed all those horses to stand around all the off-season. Many horses also do better dude-riding-wise if they don't have that long of period off. Each ranch then also has a larger group of horses to work with than they need to own.

I know at least one wrangler also made the trip this season. I was asked if I'd like to, but I already had plans...I'm also not sure if I want to do ranch-ranch-ranch...I like to mix things up.
I can think of several things that would make me consider staying here year round.

1. reasonable room and board
2. a pay as you go plan instead of charging you for food you don't eat(this is possible, they do it at the Grand Canyon)
3. a way for people to get out of here on their days off when they don't have a car. Being stuck out here for several months at a time is not much fun. Xanterra will bring you out, but other than rec trips, there is no way for you to get out of the park unless you find someone else to give you a ride.
4. better housing and I do agree about single rooms. I'd be willing to pay more to not have a roommate half my age who wants to stay up all night.
Hey Bill, great ideas. I think that my wife and i would be more up for doing more seasonal/year round work if they offered better married housing, with our own bathrooms and little kitchenettes.

My wife has a masters in social work and is great with people and working in management positions and i have years of experience in food and am going into the medical specialties field.

Jon M
hey jon there is an couple of places that is year round that has own bathrooms and kitchens
The idea of a co-op is an intersting one except that employers are in competition with the other company's in that region. The best way to keep in the spirit of this site is to say we are free agents and you are the agent. The problem with year round contracts is that it breeds complancy. I lived and worked in Yosemite for 18 years under the notion that we were all union and life is grand. And over the years there I noticed that there was enough dead burned out wood to create a major eyesore. So how about this. Keep doing what you are doing. There are enough links to keep all of us searching and exploring the free agent market if you will. If a year round job is the result and that is what you want than great and if you want to do a seasonal deal only than move on thats good to. Choice is a good thing.
Hi there Bill,

I greatly admire your passion in helping to guide talented people use their skills by working in wonderful places such as our National Parks. And perhaps someday, efforts of people (like myself), would open the threshold to the rewards of a lifelong career.

The service and hospitality industry needs people who have both the talent and the skill. I have met a lot of exceptionally talented and skillful people over the course of period working in four different parks. However, what I have noticed is that, talented and skillful people, most of the time, are not quality employees. There is an obvious reason for this. All the concessionaires present a comprehensive proposal to the Department of Interior to where each outline satisfies the requirement of the department and of course, the National Park Service. Concessionaires have strict guidelines to follow to get a federal contract that sometimes lasts for 15 years. Of course, it goes without saying that each proposal is better than the rest whereby everyone claims that his or her company would increase the park's visitorship, by using a screening process only the best quality applicants would be hired.

Concessionaires focus on sustainability, renewable energy, protecting the environment, and anything that goes along the "green" mantra. It is a "no-brainer" as that is what the federal government wants to see. The truth is, concessionaires use that as a guise; they spend a great deal of time focusing on exponentially increasing their profits that they don't even bother doing background checks on their applicants. How about drug testing? Most concessionaires don't want to spend money on that either. As a result, national park concessionaires become a haven for people who have the habit of staying below the radar of law enforcement. These are the people who don't want to be cognizant of the law; the same people who have a difficult time finding regular employment because of drugs, alcohol, and sexual predatory problems. In some cases, there are mental issues involved as well. These are also the same people who can not function properly in society based on norms, standards, and rule of law. Yet, they get hired by concessionaires.

It is a "quick fix" as I have previously indicated on a different discussion thread. Working for a concessionaire at a national park is an easy solution to temporarily alleviate instability that always ends up in homelessness, as there is housing provided. It becomes a lure for people who have substance and alcohol abuse problems. People who have mental issues and sexual predatory issues, unfortunately end up in the mix as well because of poor hiring processes employed by these concessionaires. There is not a single concessionaire that will turn employees in for any state or federal law violations from possesion of drug paraphernalia, drug use to underage drinking. This is quite obvious again as concessionaires have NPS satisfaction rating; the more employees who get busted, the lower the rating given by NPS. So it is like a scorecard that would determine their eligibility to be considered for contract renewal. It is a sad reality that Xanterra being that largest concessionaire sets the worst example where even the location manager at Bryce is a hard-core alcoholic and a stoner. The saddest part is, even premier resorts such as Vail, follow the trend when it comes to the tolerance of drugs and alcoholism. Employees are attracted to what is being promoted. In any major city, drunk and disorderly is a guaranteed trip to jail. But in a small society where law enforcement is not present 24/7 (keep in mind, law enforcement rangers stop patrolling after mindnight) any violation of the law remains unnoticed and unpunished.

Mr. Berg, you have obviously worked in a few parks before. When they send you the contract, they also give you a list of items that are prohibited. Wow! That makes me feel safe and secure. But do any of these companies actually inspect the items you bring into the property?

It is always good to encourage people to follow their passion. But at the same time, it is even better to warn people of the work environment they are getting into. You should concentrate on having a meeting with employers to come up with clear-cut guidelines on how to avoid hiring unstable people, instead of becoming a member panel to discuss these companies bogus visions. You should focus more on the quality of life and the moral aspect of an individual living and working at a national park, than turning the younger generation into drug addicts, alcoholics and sexual predators.
Mandingo Ness, I have worked at one of the Xanterra parks for five months and its a shame that I see new employees being hired and I'm pretty sure that they never had a background check or drug test. Even I have never had a drug test on my first day. However there was one time during the first month of operation that a bunch older employees had a random drug test. It's not very random if all those tested were over 40! Whatever happened to the random drug test to the younger people? And of course the managers should not be exempt from any drug test either.

It's disgusting to see alcoholics partying around the dorms making noise and waking up those few decent people who want to sleep and be able to function at work the next day. It's also a shame that the security guys don't do their job to patrol the dorms as they are supposed to and instead they watch TV in the recreation rooms. Besides, its not like security can do much anyway to enforce the rules because they are not management. Their job is just for show. It's like they are just porters working the graveyard shift.

The park rangers don't do much to enforce the law in the park. If someone violates a state or federal law while in the park, the rangers just write a ticket. There was an instance when the sheriff had to come into the park to arrest someone for drug possession and the rangers did not have clue what happened.

Thank you Xanterra for your tolerance of drugs and alcoholism!
Hi Bill,
The co-op idea has existed to some extent as far back as 1999 or so that I know of. That was the first season that Glacier Park Inc., the main concessionaire in Glacier National Park, had an end-of-season job fair with about a dozen resorts looking for winter employees attending. They had Mammoth Mountain and the Ocean Reef Club and it was a big hit with the employees.
I'm just finishing the season with Vail Resorts' Grand Teton Lodge Company subsidiary and we've already had an inter-company job fair, desks for a day at each location in Grand Teton National Park with parent corporation HR personnel providing information and taking names on potential matches. Vail Resorts is always as the forefront of resort procedures and the HR folk were not just handing out brochures - they were serious. Grand Teton National Park's summer-only operation interfaces well with the skiing resorts of Vail Resorts so this isn't likely to go away any time soon.
People employed in other than giant companies, companies that don't have multiple resorts with multiple seasons certainly will benefit from some kind of a consortium of resorts with complementing seasons. If, say, Forever Resorts and Vail Resorts and Xanterra were so combine their energies, sending just one person for all three companies to three times as many sources of seasonal employees...
The economy of scale plus the increased number of work/housing varieties should help to ease the problem of finding qualified people who last all season. If, say, the dozen Jackson-area employers using Coolworks were to fund a full-time recruiter who travelled the graduations, season closures and job fairs, using Coolworks as his on-line application processor, information start point and so on...
The recruiter could sit in a Denver Job Fair at Staples Center in the "Jackson/Grand Teton/Jackson Hole Ski" booth... A couple of PCs would let them fill out the Coolworks application and the recruiter could do an interview on the spot. A cell phone could connect qualified applicants to, say, Beaver Creek personnel who might ask another specific question or two and a person who might never have gotten to Vail - or ever have been able to have been interviewed personally - is under complete and full consideration. Ditto for the Spring graduation job fairs at likely colleges - certainly every college with a hospitality and/or culinary arts program. Cornell, Purdue and Colorado Mountain College students would be well-served to join the likes of Johnson and Wales interns in such fine settings as Glacier Park and Beaver Creek.
Coolworks could serve as the on-line clearing point for applications/info or even provide the recruiter for the various confederations of regional employers. The Florida resorts need people in December, the Cape and Islands resorts in Massachusetts need employees in May. Vail and the big ski resorts have their main crop of thousands of winter employees starting in late November. A professional traveling recruiter could represent the Vail area coop in November, then the Florida confederation in December and then do Nantucket/Martha's Vineyard and the Cape in February and the Yellowstone/Grand Teton group in April. A full-time, year-around representative for the various confederation/co-ops would have to have some overlap positive points such as where he was unable to locate any bus driving jobs in one area but knew that there definitely would be drivers needed in just a month in Wyoming...
Boston with 11 large schools are getting out in May could see just a single Coolworks co-op recruiter representing, say, the Yellowstone/Grand Teton/West Yellowstone/Jackson co-op in successive days at eleven sources of candidates. A few $350 notebook computers and several cell phones would obviate the need for other than a little bit of a quiet area. You could, say, tell Xanterra Yellowstone that you were at Boston College Wednesday and that you would have recruits there file an on-line app and get an interview but that anyone you particularly felt was ripe for an immediate hire would be put on the phone to them for an immediate decision.
The recruiter might spend Monday morning at Boston College and Monday afternoon at Harvard and so on, spending a week in Boston and then moving onto a week at New York. The big hospitality programs might warrant a trip on their own - Cornell, Purdue, Johnson and Wales so on. A guy with interviewing authority for 7 Jackson hospitality businesses plus both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks and a couple of West Yellowstone hirers is sure to attract more attention than a single employer's rep. I mean, you might decide to actually go see a booth that offers jobs with 20 separate employers in an exciting area like the Cape & Islands or the Florida Keys...
I would like to say I'm available to recruit in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands as soon as mid-October.
Dan

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