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Low jobless rate has attractions scrambling for seasonal staff

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PHOTO COURTESY OF CRAYOLA EXPERIENCE
Former Crayola Experience ‘Color Crew’ members Santiago Ramirez and Colleen McNally, both from Easton. The downtown Easton attraction hires many high school and college students to fill jobs from May through September.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CRAYOLA EXPERIENCE Former Crayola Experience ‘Color Crew’ members Santiago Ramirez and Colleen McNally, both from Easton. The downtown Easton attraction hires many high school and college students to fill jobs from May through September.

Are seasonal and part-time employment gigs harder to fill this summer?

That depends on who you ask.

Some employers are paying more, promoting discounts and perks, touting distinctive, dynamic work environments and providing skills and cross-training in the hope these incentives will draw seasonal, temporary or part-time workers to fill important busy-season jobs.

Others don’t need to do much of anything to draw seasonal applicants.

“I received 200 applications when we opened our new building in April,” said Jerry McAward, a long-time kayak and whitewater rafting outdoor adventures entrepreneur. He owns and operates Lehighton Outdoor Center in Lehighton, which includes JP Rafts and Northeast PA Kayak School, a café and bicycle shop.

CHALLENGING IN SEPTEMBER

Other area tourism and recreation venues have been affected by May’s low jobless rate of 4.5 percent, which has made recruiting harder and more competitive than in previous years.

They still tap summer workers through high school and college recruiting, job fairs and word of mouth to fill positions at amusement parks, resorts and specialty venues.

While high school students eagerly populate seasonal positions at Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom in South Whitehall Township, maintaining staffing levels after school resumes around Labor Day becomes challenging, said Tana Bartek, public relations and communications manager for Dorney.

“While guests from other areas and states are still enjoying the summer at the park, we employ students from around the world to assist with staffing during this time,” Bartek said.

EMPLOYEE REFERRALS

In response to the lower jobless rate, Dorney introduced casual part-time positions, which allow job seekers to work only one or two days a week, making additional income attractive to those who need flexible work schedules.

Dorney hires teenagers 14 and older with different jobs requiring different age minimums, Bartek said.

Dorney representatives attend job fairs and connect with high schools and area colleges, but employee referrals “are our greatest resource,” Bartek said.

STUDENTS ON THE JOB

Easton’s Crayola Experience also bankrolls employee referrals, according to Nicole Davis, human resources representative.

She said summertime is a big “seasonal bump” at Crayola, as are spring and winter breaks. Crayola Experience hires a lot of high school and college students to fill jobs from May through September.

Crayola also sources staffing through local colleges and job fairs, but Davis also said existing employees are a great resource for referrals to fill open positions.

ONE-OF-A-KIND OPPORTUNITY

Robert Rowan, director of operations for Lehigh Valley Zoo in Schnecksville, said the low jobless rate made it harder to hire seasonal staff, coupled with the not-for-profit’s minimum wage offering of $7.25 per hour.

But the zoo makes up for lower wages by providing a one-of-a-kind job experience, he said.

Many candidates are drawn to the zoo because it is unlike any other job they have worked, Rowan said.

A niche employer, the zoo appeals to those interested in conservation and veterinary careers as well as those interested in tending wild, exotic or unusual animal species.

PROMOTES FRIENDLY ENVIRONMENT

Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Longswamp Township says it promotes its meticulously maintained grounds and close-knit, friendly work environment to attract workers to fill peak season jobs. That time frame is during ski (Dec. 1 to mid-March) and wedding season (May through November).

Park-time workers receive resort discounts and free skiing and snowboarding during their employment.

Bear Creek has 800 winter employees and about 100 wedding season employees, said Monica Hamilton, Bear Creek human resources manager.

INCENTIVES

Hamilton said hiring for this year’s positions was more difficult than in the past.

“This year, we increased our hourly rate … and added benefits to attract workers,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said promoting the indoor/outdoor work environment went a long way to luring potential talent from area warehouse jobs.

“That’s where we found they were going,” she said.

NO SHORTAGE HERE

At his new location for the Lehighton Outdoor Center, the low jobless rate didn’t affect McAward’s ability to make summer hires. In fact, there’s been no shortage of talent to fill these positions, he said.

“We’ve actually never had a problem, and I don’t advertise. It’s all word of mouth and referrals,” he said.

He said most of his staff of roughly 100 is part time.

“Some are for one day, some are for the season and I do have some full time,” McAward said.

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