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ARCHIVED  September 10, 1999

Hotels find ‘good workers’ hard to come by

Take a 3 percent unemployment rate, mix in a host of new hotels, stir in traditionally low salaries and, for extra seasoning, add a booming economy. That’s the recipe for a labor shortage in Northern Colorado’s hospitality industry.

An increase in the number of motel and hotel rooms in Northern Colorado has led to a need for more employees, especially those interested in positions as housekeepers or working at the front desk. However, with other sectors feeling the labor crunch as well, it should come as no surprise that people desiring work in the hospitality industry are hard to come by.

In just the last couple years, Greeley, for example, has added about 300 motel rooms, bringing the total to 1,044 rooms.

“Business has been rather consistent,´ said Sarah MacQuiddy, director of the Greeley Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

The city’s hotels, like those in most of Colorado, average a 62 percent to 65 percent occupancy rate.

“Obviously, someone saw the demand for more rooms and built the rooms,” MacQuiddy said. “It broadens the base, and Greeley has an extremely high [level of] corporate business for the hotels — and event business and visitor-conference business.”

Fort Collins has seen the addition of 78 rooms so far this year, for a total of 2,181 rooms. And hospitality employers are feeling the pinch.

Like many other industries, including retail and fast-food restaurants, the hospitality field is finding it difficult to lure and keep employees — or at least, good employees. Rick Degeneffe, owner of Ramada Limited Suites in Fort Collins, said there are plenty of people who apply, but “very rarely do they have good ethics.”

“We just keep on interviewing people and keep on going until we find a good one. Then we have to pay them well to keep ’em,” he said.

Many people he has hired — and then let go — are interested in earning money, but become disillusioned when they discover they actually have to work for it.

“I go through 20 bad ones before I get a good one,” he said.

Degeneffe, also president of the Northern Colorado Innkeepers Association, said most of those who apply at his motel are high-school and college students.

Jobs in the hospitality industry are not known for high wages or regular daytime hours. Though housekeepers can command a wage above minimum, it usually comes without benefits, making a better job offer elsewhere too enticing to pass up. Night auditors, who must work until dawn, are the hardest positions to fill, innkeepers say.

“[Turnover] is unbelievable,´ said Kate McMillen, manager of Best Western Kiva Inn on Mulberry Street in Fort Collins. “Oftentimes, they don’t stay for more than four or five months. We feel like we’re constantly training, and it’s expensive, too.”

McMillen is resigned to the fact that as long as unemployment is at 3 percent, she will have difficulty keeping good employees in all positions.

She also believes that the number of new lodging facilities is affecting the situation. “For the area — a new motel every two seconds — competition is great, but we’re not filling like we should be.”

McMillen employs nine people: five housekeepers and four on front desk. Salaries for housekeepers were raised $1 an hour last year to $6.50. “We’ve done the ads, put it out on the marquee, Job Service, all kinds of different things,” she said.

Lew Wymisner, assistant director of the Larimer County Workforce Center, said any industry with traditionally lower wages is experiencing labor shortages — hospitality included. The only way around it is to boost wages, he said.

“The minimum (for attracting employees) is now $7 and up,” he said. “Businesses are attracting people with money from the pool of people employed — from one company to another.”

But Wymisner also looks at the situation from the job-seekers’ perspective.

“For 15 of the last 21 years, it has been an employers’ market. Now for the past six years, and especially the last two or three, it’s been a job-seekers’ market,” he said. “What if you’re a job-seeker? You don’t see (the labor shortage) as a problem.

“What may appear to be a downside of a booming industry is to a great many people not a downside. People who once might have had to settle for minimum wage can now find jobs that pay $7 or $8 an hour.”

A motel’s chance of finding good employees often hinges on recruiting techniques and word of mouth from current employees.

“We actively recruit on a regular basis,´ said Becky Walker, operations manager for Holiday Inn Express in Greeley. “Right now the market is very, very competitive. Every hotel around here is hiring.”

She said potential employees pick up applications “all the time.” In addition, current employees are paid a bonus if a person they recommend for a job is hired.

For Walker, advertising in newspapers is a last resort.

“We like to work with people we have contact with, a friend or relative of someone who already works here, who works well with our system,” she said.

Take a 3 percent unemployment rate, mix in a host of new hotels, stir in traditionally low salaries and, for extra seasoning, add a booming economy. That’s the recipe for a labor shortage in Northern Colorado’s hospitality industry.

An increase in the number of motel and hotel rooms in Northern Colorado has led to a need for more employees, especially those interested in positions as housekeepers or working at the front desk. However, with other sectors feeling the labor crunch as well, it should come as no surprise that people desiring work in the hospitality industry are hard to come by.…

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