|By Anna Sowa, The Bulletin, Bend, Ore.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 2, 2005 - December is the beginning of summer vacation in Peru, but 30 Peruvian college students will spend their upcoming summer 4,766 miles north on the frosty slopes of Mt. Bachelor.
The students will work as service employees at Mt. Bachelor ski resort -- as lift attendants, housekeepers, dishwashers and servers. They will provide entry-level labor for a business competing for seasonal help.
For the first time, the resort looked outside the United States to Spanish-speaking Peru to recruit employees for full-time, minimum-wage jobs. The students are English-proficient.
The increasingly meager supply of service workers in Bend makes seasonal employees harder for the resort to find, said Janette Sherman, Mt. Bachelor communications manager.
"We are a growing business and the (entry-level) labor market is shrinking," Sherman said. "We also are in a booming town and as an employer, we are in competition with other employers in town."
Mt. Bachelor hired the students through Intej, an international work agency that helps Peruvian students find work in the United States.
If the program is successful, international hiring may become commonplace, Bachelor officials say.
"This is a way to have those positions filled that we always have trouble with," said Carly Carmichael, Mt. Bachelor marketing director.
Compounding that difficulty is the trouble finding employees willing to work seasonally for a few months -- even with a free ski pass included with the job, officials say.
"The seasonality of the positions is a major factor," Sherman said.
"There is just a huge demand for labor at this time in Bend and that is a major competitor in filling seasonal positions at Mt. Bachelor."
Mt. Bachelor can't raise wages for service positions without increasing costs for guests, she said, adding that the resort pays the market wage for service jobs.
The Peruvian students, ages 19 to mid-20s, attend college in Lima, Peru's largest city with more than 8 million people, according to the U.S. Department of State Web site. They study a variety of subjects, including law, travel, translation and hospitality.
Lima native Estefani Ortecho, 19, is one of the Peruvian students headed north. The engineering and business management student is excited to work independently for the first time in a new country.
"I want to improve my English and experience a new place and culture," Ortecho said by telephone. "I'm excited because it's going to be a great experience."
The students are responsible for paying their travel and living expenses. Mt. Bachelor is helping them find group housing, costs of which will depend on how many students opt to live together.
The students will arrive in staggered groups, starting in November, and will work until their visas expire in March 2006. That ensures students will work during peak season, Dec. 17 through Jan. 2. The resort's season runs roughly Nov. 18 through May, snow conditions permitting.
The jobs offer students a chance to enhance their resumes and improve their English and Mt. Bachelor gets labor and an international flavor.
"Where these kids are from will be a topic of conversation for our guests," Shanabruch said, adding that employees' name tags display their home towns. "It will get them involved in the community."
The students will live in Bend with J1 visas, which is a short-term visa granted only to students who are in the midst of their studies, Sherman said.
Intej, based in Lima, is the equivalent of a foreign-exchange program in the United States, in which students pay a company to set them up with employers and businesses in a desired area.
Intej enrolls students in a number of work and travel programs throughout the world and costs $695, according to Giancarlo Tocto, Intej work and travel program coordinator.
The 8-year-old program is the first of its kind in Peru and the primary method by which students can travel and work in the United States, Tocto said.
While the Peruvian students coming to Bend will not have ski resort backgrounds (Peru has no ski resorts, unlike its Chilean neighbor to the south), Mt. Bachelor recruiters sought students with an interest in winter recreation and the hospitality industry.
The Peruvians don't need to be ski or snowboard experts for the work they'll do, said Emily Shanabruch, Mt. Bachelor's human resources director.
In the past few years, the number of service-job openings in Central Oregon has outpaced the number of service-job workers, according to Jan Swander, work force analyst at the Oregon Employment Department in Bend.
The employment office currently has 403 single- and multiple-job listings in Bend paying $7.25 per hour, the current minimum wage, to $8 an hour. The listings could mean as many as 1,000 available positions, Swander said.
In the peak employment months of June, July and August 2004, roughly 400 entry-level jobs were listed in Bend, Swander said. In those same months this year, more than 500 such jobs were available. That equated to about 1,500 job opportunities because some listings had as many as 50 openings, she said.
While there's an employee shortage across the board in Central Oregon -- from service to business and professional positions -- filling minimum-wage and service jobs is hardest, Swander said.
"The growing population (in Central Oregon) brings workers and a demand for additional services," Swander said. "Not everyone who moves here is a service worker. Many workers are wanting higher salaries and are higher-skilled."
Many people moving to Bend are retiring and need health-care services, which creates demand for highly skilled workers in high-paying health-care occupations, she said.
Also, minimum-wage workers aren't moving to Central Oregon because of rising living expenses, she said.
"We're finding that cost of living is certainly a factor (in the service labor shortage)," Swander said.
However, the need for entry-level service workers is increasing.
Projected job openings in the 2004-2014 period are expected to reach 37,363 in Central Oregon, Swander said. That is 24.1 percent higher than the previous decade.
Of those jobs, 5,483 are expected to be entry-level.
The jobs correlate with population growth. Deschutes County's population is expected to reach 228,739 by 2025 . 61 percent higher than today, according to a county forecast.
Snow may be a shock for the Peruvian students coming from the Southern Hemisphere. They're used to winter temperatures bottoming at 57 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity as high as 93 percent to 99 percent at times, Tocto said.
"Most of the participants have never experienced such cold weather like in Bend before," he said. "But the shock will pass after a week or two."
Culturally, life in Lima is drastically different from Bend, Tocto said. Students don't leave their parents' homes until years after receiving a degree and finding stable work.
"The students will spend three to four months out by themselves in a totally different environment far away from home," Tocto said in an e-mail.
"This will make them more independent. Also, they will experience a new way of thinking, more open-minded people and lifestyles, customs, different food and rules (the legal drinking age in Peru is 18, for example)."
Being surrounded by fluent English-speakers will help the students learn the language that is becoming a worldwide necessity, Tocto said, adding that it will help their resumes while providing hands-on experience in the hospitality industry.
"Hospitality and hotel management is a growing career in Peru," he said. "Every year there are more students willing to study this career and the jobs they will perform in the U.S. and ski resorts will be useful for them."
Ski resorts have sought help outside the United States for years, said Michael Berry, president of Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association, but the trend has increased dramatically in recent years.
Finding seasonal employees has become more difficult in the past 10 years as cities grow beyond the availability of service-work employees, Berry said.
That means the number of entry-level workers isn't keeping pace with the number of entry-level jobs available. Reasons could include the high cost of living in resort towns or competition from other businesses, he said.
"This happens in a lot, if not all, major destination resorts in the region," Berry said. "Areas and needs have grown and sometimes the number of people coming to town looking for seasonal work hasn't grown in lockstep."
Ski resorts nationwide recruit globally from places like Poland, Russia, the Balkans, South Africa, Peru, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia, Berry said. The foreigners don't necessarily come because they like winter recreation, but to earn money and gain experience.
"Most recruits are college students in their early 20s looking for opportunities to earn more money in the United States than they could at home and then continue their education when they're done," Berry said.
Tocto said the exchange rate is roughly 3.25 Peruvian soles for every $1.
Mt. Bachelor's Shanabruch said the resort is using this season to test the international recruiting strategy.
"With the tight labor market in Bend, the company has to be resourceful," Shanabruch said. "If it works out, we'll add it to our recruiting."
The resort hires about 800 employees during its peak winter season and 75 in the summer. Roughly 60 employees work for Mt. Bachelor year-round.
Half of the resort's seasonal help returns every year, a group Mt. Bachelor relies on for consistent customer service, Shanabruch said.
The company will recruit aggressively throughout the season and work with summer resorts, like Sunriver, to hire their seasonal employees as their season concludes.
Mt. Bachelor currently has 430 job openings for the winter, which they hope to fill after a Nov. 5 job fair in Bend.
For more information about working at Mt. Bachelor, call 541-382-2442, ext. 2030, or apply online at www.mtbachelor.com.
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