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Australian ski resorts need to start hiring now.

Before I start my rant, I do want to acknowledge that many ski businesses in Australia do a great job hiring staff and providing a wonderful experience for them.

Unfortunately a large section of the Australian ski industry can’t see the mess coming. It’s like watching a slow moving train wreck. It’s six months until opening day, and the lack of hiring urgency is just weird.

Here’s a list why Australia’s ski industry is going to struggle with a highly volatile workforce in the 2024 winter.

  1. The cost of living crisis has hit ski areas harder than cities, and it’s now much harder for young workers to get set up in ski towns. Young workers need more time to save enough money just to work a ski season.
  2. Last years poor snow conditions meant ski workers did not have a great experience. Ski businesses can expect fewer existing employees returning for 2024. Employees who didn’t have a great year in 2023 won’t be encouraging their friends to work the 2024 season. This is a very big problem.
  3. The ski industry heavily relies on backpacker labour, and many of these people need to tick off 88 Days to get a second or third year visa. The ski industry needs to give these people enough time to complete their 88 days prior to the ski season so they don’t leave mid winter for farm jobs or hospitality work in the tropics.
  4. International workers also need to save up $5K to get an Australian visa. Late hiring makes this very difficult for young people wanting to work a ski season.
  5. Northern Hemisphere summer adventure businesses are already aggressively hiring young people. Mt Buller employers aren’t just competing with Thredbo for talent. They are also competing with rafting companies in BC, surf schools in Europe, and particularly hospitality businesses in TNQ.
  6. Ski businesses that used social media to find staff in 2023, and plan to do the same in 2024, are in for a big shock. Social media job sites have been overrun by AI generated spam and scams. Moderators can’t keep up and seasonal workers/backpackers are abandoning them.
  7. And then of course there’s the big issue of housing. Apart from potentially new employee beds at Bogong Village (near Falls Creek) there’s no indication the number of affordable beds in ski resorts will rise. If the trends continue, it’s much more likely employee beds will be lost to the short term rental market in ski towns.

So what exactly does this look like when the snow starts to fall? Famous ski resorts in Canada have very similar issues, and are a really good guide what will happen in Australia. Check our recent podcast. This is what I expect to see.

  • Fewer overall employees across all resorts due to the continued loss of affordable beds in ski resorts.
  • A record number of employee “no-shows” on Day 1.
  • A record number of early leavers, especially if the snow is poor and workers don’t get enough hours to cover their rent. Those who don’t leave town will leave jobs and chase more hours with other employers.
  • More restaurants being closed on Monday  and Tuesdays and running 5 on  / 2 off shifts due to lack of staff, particularly chefs.
  • A much more inexperienced workforce with rookies replacing veterans.
  • A larger proportion of unreliable “party program” workers who are happy to blow through their savings over winter. These “One season wonders” generally prioritise their desires over their employer’s needs.

This last point is really important. It’s now impossible for seasonal workers in famous resorts in North America to break even during the ski season. If things don’t change the only workers they can attract are people with serious bank balances or access to Mum and Dad’s credit cards. These people want it all. They don’t work overtime, don’t come with practical skills to run ski resorts, and won’t take daytime jobs because their skiing time is more important. That means service levels plummet in ski resorts charging $300 a day to ski. That’s Australia’s future if trends continue.

Yes, these problems will require long term solutions, but the one thing employers should do immediately is start hiring for the 2024 winter now. Scrambling for staff in May and June on social media is not going to end well.

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