Finding staff is the biggest concern operators confront. As it should be: no park can be better than its people. When guests rate their experience, their interaction with guides and other personnel is most frequently mentioned. So, how do you develop the organization that best serves your particular operation?
If your park operates year round and offers advancement opportunities, your candidate pool is much larger than the seasonal attraction that has a manager, senior supervisor, and assorted part-timers. In either case, the required positions are similar: management, guest facilitators, office staff, and maintenance.
The best source for all positions is recommendations from people you know, including current staff. Query your friends, business contacts, and folks you trust at local schools, churches, youth groups, civic clubs, and government agencies. Solicit a likely applicant you encounter in a restaurant or retail job. In recruitment, “word of mouth” is key.
A manager is the first, and often easiest, position to fill. It is a full-time, potentially career assignment. Recruit a person with management experience and solid references, preferably within the outdoor recreation or hospitality field. However, the management position requires multiple skills, and the aerial aspects can be acquired if the candidate is proficient in other respects.
Candidates are often willing to relocate for a management position, so you can broaden your search beyond the local area. Post in publications like Adventure Park Insider, solicit recommendations from PVMs, attend job fairs, and use ziprecruiter.com to cast a wide net.
Important note: Assume that the position you are filling meets the aspiration of the applicant. Don’t oversell the job or opportunity. Explain that the park is open 50 to 100 hours per week, depending on the season and weather conditions. Peak periods may require management presence during traditional holidays. The manager is not expected to work all hours of operation; delegation and monitoring skills are vital.
Determine the applicant’s financial needs and goals. If the manager position has a maximum salary of $45,000 and the applicant has obligations that exceed that amount, or if benefits don’t include health care and the applicant must have it, keep looking. Many people will accept a position while they look for something more suitable. Be alert to that possibility so you don’t have to go through this process a second time.
Front Line Staff
These positions are often part time; make it clear if this is an “as needed” position to maintain flexibility of scheduling. Be honest with candidates about the potential peaks and valleys of hours.
1. Guest facilitators. Aka guides. These critical employees come in different genders, ages, aspirations, backgrounds, appearance, education, ethnicity, and politics. That’s all part of their charm. What matters is that they are responsible, friendly, dependable, trustworthy, clean, and service-committed.
2. Office staff. Recruitment for office staff parallels that for guides, but without the physical requirements. Office staff will handle cash transactions, so background checks and personal references are important. Computer skills and pleasant phone techniques are essential.
3. Maintenance workers. This cadre is a bit easier to find. For one, they need not be the required age 18 for guides. You can also hire a contractor to perform maintenance. If you do, be sure he or she is insured and can supply a certificate of insurance. You don’t want to cover contractors on the park’s policy.
Finding Great People
Where is this diverse population that is willing to work “as needed?” Everywhere! A well-known fast food company advertises itself as “Your Best First Job,” stressing that an entry level job is not a career. Guiding on a zip line is not typically a career either, but it beats the heck out of flipping burgers.
- College students are an obvious source. If they live nearby, they can work weekends and holidays to supplement the busier days.
- Retired military have maturity, income, health benefits, work ethic, and are available year round. Organizations such as RecruitMilitary.com, MilitaryConnection.com, Vet Job Fairs, and Pathway Vets promote veteran placement. If a military base is nearby, call on the placement office directly.
- Government employees and teachers share many of the qualities of retired military. Many retire with 30 years service and are only in their early fifties.
- Firefighters are scheduled off a few days each week, and many work a second job as a result. To assist in that, fire department central offices often have a job placement service. Firefighters offer maturity, safety awareness, first aid expertise, and are frequently drug tested.
- Evening restaurant workers can cover day shifts until 3 p.m. or later.
- Outdoors enthusiasts have an obvious desirable trait: they love the outdoors. Call on outdoor outfitters and leave applications on their bulletin boards to catch the enthusiast who might be looking for more work.
- Your guests are another likely pool. Post jobs on your website and social media, and include in your print ads and rack cards.
- Accumulate applications and keep on file even when not hiring. That applicant might be available later, too.
- Remember that all positions are customer service oriented. Prior experience is helpful, but not required, as there will be thorough training prior to employment.
The Review Process
Beyond the interview, there are other ways to evaluate potential employees.
- Real-World Experience. During the initial interview, offer the applicant a complimentary experience as a guest in the park, so they can see what’s involved.
- Obtain References. Ideally, get these from previous employers and personal sources such as teachers, coaches, or neighbors. Inform the applicant that an FCRA (Fair Credit Reporting Act) compliant background check will be conducted (through Good Hire or Checkr, for example). Your insurance carrier may offer this service.
Note to the employer: Prior convictions of inappropriate sexual behavior, harassment, vehicle felonies, etc., should disqualify the applicant, if not voluntarily noted on the employment application.
- Pre-Screen Drug Testing? The insurance carrier may or may not require one. If an employer elects to drug test, all employees must be included. It is all or none. The most common step is a urine test that screens for a variety of drugs.
Failure of the test is not an automatic disqualifier. It is the discretion of the employer. Be aware, though, that in case of an accident, all personnel involved will likely be given a drug test. (ed. note: Adventure Park Insider plans to cover this subject fully in a future issue.)
- Initial Training. Initial training is conducted prior to employment, and the satisfactory completion of training is a condition of employment. Explain that there is no compensation for training until they are hired, per Federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Future training will be compensated. (Verify that this policy does not violate local law.)
Make it clear to all candidates what is expected of staff.
Priority #1: Commitment to safety. The work is performed at speed and height, and the safety of the staff and guests depends on total commitment to safety protocol. Implement your protocol in a way that supports confidence, not anxiety, in the guest experience.
Priority #2: Maximizing the guest experience. Some guests are there for the thrill, others to learn, some will want to know about the construction process. The guide will need to determine what to discuss, what to avoid, and play to the interests of the group.
Priority #3: Working well in a team environment. Cooperation makes the work flow more efficiently. Putting gear in position for the next tour, helping guests get out of their gear, answering a phone when others are busy, keeping the guide area neat—all these little chores help fellow staff stay on schedule.
Cross training alleviates many staffing woes. When interviewing an applicant, find out if the person is capable of handling office responsibilities as well as conducting a tour. Consider:
- Mature enough to supervise in the manager’s absence?
- Capable of performing the emergency protocol when necessary?
- Are you comfortable with him or her handling cash and other assets?
- Dependable enough to open and close the office without supervision?
- Willing to perform other duties such as mulch trails and inspect guy wires?
- Cross-trained employees will earn more, and be more valuable to the park.
Workforce turnover is inherent in the industry. This can be favorable. Doing the same thing every day becomes work, which becomes monotonous, which leads to carelessness. And there is zero room for carelessness.
On the other hand, experience is valuable, and keeping a qualified and engaged workforce is important. The goal is to retain staff members as long as they are enthusiastic and responsible. This is another strong reason for cross training. Varying the workday experience enhances job satisfaction.
Other considerations include:
- Match employee and job. An introvert will not make the best guide, but if highly organized, he or she could excel in the office.
- Time and money. Keep people fresh with comprehensive, ongoing training. Compensation must be competitive, consistent, understandable, and on time.
- Evaluate and communicate. Performance evaluation, recognition, and correction are vital.
- Schedule wisely. Because employees have been hired on a part-time basis, scheduling must reflect their other obligations.