Parks departments, zoos, campgrounds and outdoor entertainment venues face a bigger challenge than normal in finding seasonal employees this year as they gear up for summer amid an unprecedented labor shortage.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in February reported 11.3 million job openings across the country. Ohio’s unemployment dropped from 4.3% in January to 4.2% in February, but it’s still higher than the national average of 3.8%.
The demand for workers has touched virtually every business sector, leaving many to wonder what it will mean for the summer workforce.
“We’re seeing impact throughout the economy, but mostly on seasonal workers it’s the agricultural industry and the tourism industry that are massively affected,” Ohio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Steven Stivers said.
The U.S. Department of State’s backlog of immigrant visa applications combined with a low labor participation rate have created a difficult market for Ohio employers seeking seasonal workers.
The Buckeye State’s labor participation rate is 61.5%. Stivers said that is 2% lower than it had been in March 2020 prior to the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“On a five-and-a-half million-person workforce in Ohio, that’s 110,000 people that were in the workforce before the pandemic that aren’t in it now,” he said.
Cedar Point affected by shortage
Stivers said the visa issue contributed to the labor shortage that Sandusky-based amusement park Cedar Point experienced last summer. A significant portion of the park’s workforce, he said, typically comes from outside the U.S.
Cedar Point raised its wages to $20 per hour and offered signing bonuses to help combat the worker shortage during the 2021 season, but the park still struggled to find employees. Cedar Point closed on several weekdays in June because of the lack of workers.
“I think that’s what you’re going to see again potentially this year,” Stivers said.
Cedar Point did not return a request for comment. The amusement park announced earlier this year that it plans to hire roughly 6,500 seasonal employees for the 2022 season, with most non-tipped positions paying $15 an hour.
The labor shortage has also created competition among businesses in finding workers. Many businesses have increased their wages in an effort to attract employees, giving job seekers more options to choose from.
What does the job market look like for seasonal workers?
Many Northeast Ohio businesses are already seeing difficulties in their search for summer help.
“Previously, our numbers have been around 50 applicants per job each year, and most of them we’ve stayed below 30 (this year),” Stark Parks human resources manager Chelsie Haupt said.
The organization hires roughly 40 seasonal workers every year, she said. This includes marina attendants, wildlife rehabilitation assistants, education programmers and operational workers.
“Our current operations positions that we have open haven’t even hit double digits yet, so the amount of applicants has definitely decreased,” Haupt said.
Stark Parks hosted two job fairs in recent weeks to try to fill the unoccupied posts. Only a handful of candidates attended these events, Haupt said. Most of them already applied for positions online and came to the job fairs for face-to-face interviews.
“We usually have a pretty good turnout, so that was really surprising for us,” she said.
In the coming weeks, Stark Parks plans to direct focus to colleges and universities in the area. College students make up a large number of the organization’s seasonal workforce, Haupt said, particularly the wildlife rehabilitation positions. These posts must be filled by students in specific fields of study, such as biology or pre-med.
Stark Parks also joined Handshake, a job posting website that connects college students with internships and employment opportunities. Haupt said the agency hopes to fill the available roles before summer.
Akron Zoo sees fewer applications
Meanwhile, Akron Zoo Director of Guest Services Jeannette Andreski also said the seasonal employment search has been a challenge.
The zoo typically hires around 200 employees in the summertime. It advertises openings in many ways, including on social media and job posting websites and by contacting high schools in the area. Still, Akron Zoo has received fewer applicants than normal this year.
“We are at a little under 40% of the total number of staff that we need to start our summer season just in the guest service department,” Andreski said.
She said it’s difficult to compare this year’s hiring process to last year as COVID protocols limited the zoo’s operations at the start of the season, but the issue does appear to have grown worse.
“This does seem to be a bit of a greater struggle than what we had last year, even kind of taking out that COVID factor and some of those limitations when we started this season, it definitely seems to be much more difficult than it was last year,” she said.
Akron Zoo has seasonal positions in custodial and guest services open, as well as several full-time opportunities.
‘We just hope that people will consider the job, the culture and the experience they will get in a seasonal job.’
Parks and street departments in Stark County are feeling the effects of the worker shortage, too.
North Canton’s Deputy Director of Administration Catherine Farina said in an email that the city has 12 seasonal openings in the parks and recreation and street departments. The postings have received fewer responses than normal this year.
Farina said the departments recognize they are competing against many other businesses, including some offering higher wages, but hope those looking for summer jobs will consider other factors.
“We just hope that people will consider the job, the culture and the experience they will get in a seasonal job,” she said. “It’s not just about pay, it is about what you gain from the experience and how that will benefit you in the future when seeking permanent employment.”
Similarly, Alliance’s Department of Parks and Recreation Department has experienced struggles finding workers.
The department hires between 25 and 30 seasonal employees annually, according to Parks Department Director Kim Cox. This includes general, cemetery and athletic field maintenance workers, along with lifeguards and a pool manager.
The Parks Department is still looking to fill several maintenance positions at the parks, athletic field and cemetery. Cox said in an email that the department uses social media and job posting websites and reaches out to local high schools and colleges to recruit seasonal employees.
“We are always looking for quality workers to provide our community with clean and safe parks,” Cox said.
‘We’ve got our management team almost completely hired, which is a big step … but we still need a lot more.’
Erin Colston, operations manager at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park-Camp Resort in Lake Township, said the park has done fairly well despite the labor shortage.
“I would say we are at a similar, if not better position than last year,” she said. “We did pretty well while I know a lot of other places struggled. We’ve got our management team almost completely hired, which is a big step … but we still need a lot more.”
Colston said the park hires between 50 and 60 employees in the summer. A lot of recruitment happens by word-of-mouth, she said, and by reaching out to local high schools.
“A good core of our kids are Lake High School kids,” Colston said.
She attributes the hiring success to the park’s positive reputation in the community and the memories many high school students associate with it.
“They always had fun there, so we have a lot of people that say ‘I loved it as a kid. I love the staff that were there and now I want to be a part of that,'” Colston said.
The park is still accepting applicants for lifeguards, rangers, concessions workers and positions in the hospitality and activities department.
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Summer bummer: Northeast Ohio business struggle to find seasonal help