Case Study: Tapping into Experience – Mount Washington Alpine Resort Finds Success in Hiring Baby Boomers

While the priority for human resources professionals has always been to find and keep good employees, this is proving to be even more challenging as labour shortages, particularly among the youth, are anticipated over the next 10 years or so. If you add in the relatively new policies around recruiting temporary foreign workers, the issue becomes even more pronounced – particularly for BC’s tourism and hospitality industry. This tightening labour market has created a need to tap into alternative or non-traditional labour sources, such as baby boomers.

Indeed, recruiting and retaining skilled and more experienced workers is one proactive way to help mitigate the potentially negative effects of skill and labour shortages on your business and customer service. As well, tapping into this often overlooked segment of the population – those who have retired or are about to retire and want to continue working but in something more fun than their corporate career – could provide immeasurable advantages for your business.

One BC tourism employer is already seeing the positive impacts of baby boomers in terms of increased operational efficiency and an improved bottom line. Mount Washington Alpine Resort in Courtenay has been recruiting and retaining a steady stream of older workers as part of the company’s year-round and peak-season workforce for a number of years.

“Reaching out to this specific segment has definitely been a worthwhile effort and investment,” said Kate Dodd, former Director of Finance, Human Resources and Worker Safety at Mount Washington Alpine Resort. “We’ve found that this group brings incredible experience, maturity and decision-making abilities, which have proven invaluable for us.”

Another added benefit? Dodd has found that, on the whole, the learning curve is actually smaller with this demographic versus younger staff members.

“In many cases, our baby boomers are accustomed to working at a higher level, which has saved us time and resources as they can immediately step into supervisory roles with very little and, sometimes, no training at all,” Dodd explained. “In one specific example, we hired a local boomer to handle our night shift – a shift that we would normally hire two young people for. But because of his experience, maturity and judgment, we were able to staff the position with just one person.”

Though Mount Washington has historically hired older workers with various backgrounds and education, Dodd said they all share one thing in common: maturity and natural leadership abilities due to years of experience. For this reason, she explained, they tend to become automatic mentors for younger team members, helping to improve their performance and ultimately improving the company’s bottom line. And they don’t want to take over the manager’s job!

“Fishing from a larger pond,” Dodd said, has helped the resort to effectively tackle issues around skill and labour shortages.

In terms of recruiting and retaining baby boomers, she suspects that one of the main reasons the resort has had such great success is because of its seasonal and part-time job opportunities, which helps to create a true work/life balance (a priority among this group).

Dodd said these staff members are also more flexible as they don’t usually have consistent family commitments, nor are they looking to build a family or career and are also, therefore, less likely to job hop. “For us,” Dodd said, “this has proven to be a fantastic marriage.”

There is little doubt that recruiting older workers is a competitive advantage for some organizations, but the question may remain as to how to recruit from this diverse group.

For one thing, it’s important to pay attention to the language in job descriptions. Focus on the qualities you’re interested in, including “experience, maturity and proven decision-making abilities” or use phrasing such as “all who are interested are encouraged to apply.”

If possible, try to offer opportunities for seasonal, flexible, job-sharing and part-time roles – as well as any discounts at affiliated tourism and hospitality businesses – as these may help attract this demographic in their quest for an improved work/life balance and/or appeal to their outside interests.

In terms of where to recruit, Dodd said Mount Washington often reaches out to local retirees through community organizations, as well as attending job fairs and posting online. As 96% of those aged between 51 to 70 conduct their job searches online, you may want to consider posting to popular online sites as well as posting your jobs free of charge on go2HR’s Job Board.

Dodd also advises employers to partner with community and business organizations, if possible, or “host an open house or a booth at local events.” With retirees in every community, recruiting locally may prove efficient in helping you fill certain job openings.

Similar to hiring any other prospective recruit, Dodd said it’s important to look at attitude, suitability of skills, personality, and a willingness to learn and adapt, as these qualities – combined with a lifetime of work experience and dealing with people – could prove invaluable for your company in hiring good people and improving your bottom line.

“We all know there’s a labour shortage coming, particularly among the youth,” Dodd said. “So, why wouldn’t you go fishing in this great big pond?