Sunday, February 11, 2001

Kings Island hunts for help


Labor market fuels competition

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — The water is low in Greater Cincinnati's labor pool and like many employers, Paramount's Kings Island is battling to stay afloat.

        The Warren County amusement park said last week it plans to hire about 4,500 workers to staff its peak summer months. But Warren County's tight labor market, not to mention the rest of the Tristate's, is working against it.

[photo] Casey Fischvogt interviews Kurt Scherer of Sycamore for a job in the merchandise department during Paramount's Kings Island's job fair Saturday.
([name of photographer] photo)
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        To boost interest among job-seekers, particularly teen-agers, Kings Island has launched aggressive regional and overseas recruiting programs, increased its wages to about $9 an hour, and started offering perks — from cell phones and pagers to restaurant discounts and free oil changes.

        “It's critical in a tight labor market to offer people exciting reasons to want to work at Kings Island,” said David Mandt, a spokesman for Kings Island, “as opposed to going after that other job opportunity they might be considering. Sometimes that means being unconventional.”

        With Ohio's unemployment at 3.9 percent and Kentucky's hovering around 4.4 percent, employers from Covington to Mason are trying to find creative ways to attract workers — especially high-school and college students. Beginning this spring, thousands of Tristate teens should expect to be bombarded with such job offers.

        “Because the economy has been good for the last few years, kids have more options,” said John Harris, president of the Mason-Landen-Kings Chamber of Commerce. “They have the pick of where they want to work and when they want to work, if they want to work.”

        Justin Davis, 19, of Hartwell, said he's looking forward to working at Kings Island for the fourth summer in a row. Mr. Davis, a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati, works about 65 hours a week at the park as a merchandise manager.

        “If you're a kid looking to rack up a lot of hours, this is definitely the place to be,” Mr. Davis said.

JOB FAIRS
    Paramount's Kings Island plans to hire about 4,500 workers for its 2001 season, which opens April 7. Officials held the first of six job fairs at the park on Saturday. The remaining job fairs will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Kings Island human resources office on: Feb. 24, March 10, March 17, May 12 and May 19.
    During these job fairs, prospective employees will learn about job opportunities in admissions, cash control, entertainment, food and beverage, games, guest relations, lifeguarding, maintenance, merchandise, rides, security and warehouse.
    Some positions have minimum age requirements. Anyone 15 and over may apply.
        “The perks Kings Island offers were the real draw for me at first. Having free entry to the park and getting free entry for my family was really big.”

        Stiff competition is bringing higher wages and even better incentives to places such as Kings Island, Cedar Point and Six Flags Ohio, near Cleveland, said Gary Flesch, a labor market analyst for the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services. For the past several seasons, such seasonal employers have faced serious labor shortages, he said.

        Cedar Point says it too is feeling the bite. On average, the park hires about 4,000 workers per season. Robin Innis, its director of public relations, says the park has “definitely had to become much more creative and aggressive ... to gain the employees that we need.”

        While most Cedar Point workers come from areas around Sandusky, the park recruits beyond northern Ohio.

        The inability to recruit workers can significantly affect these companies' bottom lines, Mr. Flesch said. Some businesses have had to limit operations, and others have been forced to lower their service levels, which can potentially damage their reputations, he added.

        Kings Island followed the lead of other U.S. amusement parks last year and recruited from abroad. The park imported more than 350 students from Europe and housed them at the University of Cincinnati's Sawyer Hall dormitory. Park officials struck a deal with Metro to provide expanded bus service for students without cars.

        Free park admission, flexible scheduling, paid job training, discounts on park merchandise and opportunities for advancement are standard Kings Island perks trumpeted by park officials during recruitment drives and job fairs. The park even boasts a scholarship program for college-bound employees.

        "It's imperative these days for businesses to offer more than just the end-of-the-year bonus if they hope to lure and retain workers,” said the Chamber's Mr. Harris.

        Like many employers, Kings Island also has begun targeting workers through the Internet. Last year, the park received more than 2,000 job applications through its Web site, www.pki.com., more than double the number turned in online in 1999. Park officials said they expect even more this year.

        But the park's strongest promotional tool, said spokesman Jeff Siebert, is the idea that “Kings Island is a fun place to work.” About 40 percent of the park's employees return to work the following season, he said.

        “I mean, who wants to spend their summer working indoors when you can work and have fun in the sun at the same time? Just as we have to sell our park to our patrons, we also have to sell our park to our staff.”

       



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