Challenges with finding employees cause employers to advertise often

By Jeff Smith

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Some guys with the grounds crew at Mt. Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch throw some garbage in a trailer near some cabins on July 27. From left is Michael Satter, David Tarca, Austin Verbeck, Ryan Myers and Chance Simmons.

Across the country there are a lot of issues that have been caused by the record low unemployment. This is generally good news, but for those who need workers to fill positions it is getting tougher. Employees are eventually found, but they might not be enough.

Since last October, the Department of Labor has said that about 5,600 businesses have applied for more than 142,000 visas under the H-2B program. This is the temporary guest-worker program that lets foreign nationals fill positions of need in non-agricultural industries for up to 10 months at a time.  Congress has capped the program at 66,000 H-2B visas a year, a number unchanged since 1992.

This past May the Department of Homeland Security agreed to issue an additional 15,000 visas. Still, most businesses have decided to go a different route and have been turning to area students and students from around the globe.

Anybody that has been to Krull’s Market in the middle of the day in the summer knows that there is always a steady stream of people at the checkout lines. In order to serve the vast number of people that come through that door, there are additional workers added to the payroll in the summertime.

This year, however, Krull’s Market has had trouble filling spots for the summer. Co-owner Danielle Lind said they increase the employees by 30 percent in the summer.

“We had to take a lot of extra people. People have come and gone,” Lind said.

They have had one H-2B worker at the store this summer, but not the four that they requested.

Lind said there are a lot of additional people at the store this year to fill time but often they don’t have a lot of available time themselves. They will be more scarce at the store in following weeks as extracurricular activities start up and then once school starts.

One of the issues is that they have had to close the deli earlier than they want because of the lack of help.

Two key employees go to college before the Sturgis Rally. Lind, therefore, is expecting to have a difficult time this upcoming Rally season.

Krull’s Market is going to try to make it work with the high school students. They can still be employed until the busy season is over but there are so many extracurricular activities coming up they can’t do what normal workers can.

Lind said a good majority of the workers now are high school and college students.

Lind said she would like to have the four H-2B workers and anybody else to fill the gaps.

“Those four H-2B workers wouldn’t solve anything without all of the high school and college kids we have as well,” Lind said.

The H-2B workers add to the pool of available workers.

Krull’s Market has had two of the same H-2B workers at the store for the summer since Lind worked at the store growing up. As the new owner of Krull’s Market Lind said they have what the previous years did for sales and people at the store last year but it will be good to go to next season knowing what they did this year.

Lind said she is going to try to figure something out for next year because they need employees.

Rebecca Nichols, human resource manager at Mt. Rushmore National Memorial for the Xanterra Travel Collection, has only been at the memorial for a few weeks and said there are plenty of people on board now.

“We don’t have a lot of worry now but yeah, they are leaving shortly,” Nichols said.

At the peak season at Mt. Rushmore, Xanterra needs 255 employees. Xanterra manages the retail space, cafeteria, parking lot and is also in charge of cars entering the facility at Mt. Rushmore.

They have recently posted advertising looking for three or four positions that will be available soon. Nichols said there has been some interest from people located in the area. Others are looking to transfer from another Xanterra property. The positions are at the monument for the rest of the season.

“I would like to find a few part-time people to fill in the gaps,” Nichols said.

Nichols’ thinking is that there might be some businesses that are slowing down soon and there could be some people looking for work outside of the business they have been working for.

Billie Getman, Lodge manager at Mt. Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch, said that they haven’t really had a problem finding people to work this past summer as they use multiple different avenues to try to find employees.

Getman said they post job openings on various websites, go to fairs at colleges or high schools and put ads in the newspaper.

Getman has worked at the KOA for 21 years.

She doesn’t think finding employees has been more difficult, but she has had a lot of different applicants from different sources.

Getman is in charge of hiring at Mt. Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch. She does all the interviews and advertising for openings. She is also responsible for training and orientation. Employees at Mt. Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch have one or two activities every month.

This could be going to the rodeos or different training events.

There are around 120-140 people hired at Mt. Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch for the season. A quarter of those workers are foreign help, a quarter is work campers and the other half is local students or other locals.

Work campers are people who have retired and travel around the United States to work at RV sites. The work campers have RVs and about 25-30 of them work at one of the KOA’s 20 RV sites. Many work campers have come back year after year. Some have come here for 10 years and keep coming back every summer.

There are 26 J-1 students at the KOA this summer. The KOA works with two organizations to bring the students to South Dakota. Only one of the J-1 students was a returning student this past summer.

“Many of them come on their junior or senior year. If they are eligible we might have some returners,” Getman said.

Many graduate college and can’t come another year and then there are others who don’t receive a visa. The J-1 students typically stay for three months. They are housed in the dorms and there are college students who are able to stay in the dorms as well.

“A lot of our workers are college-aged or school-aged kids so we’ll start losing them,” Getman said.

Right now they are hiring the second wave of workers at the camping resort and lodge. This would be for about six weeks of work.

Five people in management oversee all of the workers at Mt. Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch.

Different managers are in charge of different departments.

There are also shift supervisors that help manage the employees.

Getman said they might go back to the H-2B workers next year. The KOA has not had H-2B workers for the last two years because the cap is always met before jobs are available. The camping resort and lodge usually don’t start looking for jobs untiil the end of April. The cap for H-2B workers is usually filled before that.

“It would be nice to get H-2Bs to help with housekeeping,” Getman said.

“We’re continuing with J-1’s, college-aged and local people for our workforce,” Getman said.

A lot of students come back every summer so it is a fun place to be, Getman said.

“I think people are drawn to this area and this resort. It’s a great place to work,” Getman said. “You get to meet lots and lots of people from all over the world.”

Clay King, general manager of the National Presidential Wax Museum, Grapes & Grinds and Holy Terror Mini Golf in Keystone, said this year was no different from previous years as far as finding employment.

“We had all the employees we needed lined upahead of time and ready to go,” King said.

In general, Keystone usually has trouble finding people to work. He’s not sure what that can be attributed to. King said it’s hard to say if it’s because they are the new businesses and new to town so people don’t recognize them.

“I’m not sure if it’s necessarily that much worse than past years,” King said.

“I do hear people say they have been short-staffed at times.”

Every year his company has the philosophy that they will put out job openings anywhere they can. The go-to places are the newspaper and Indeed.com.

He feels like the businesses he manages are at an advantage because they are the first choice for where people want to work.

“Coffee shops are kind of the hip places to work if you’re in high school or college,” King said.

“It’s also a fun environment so people are drawn to that.”

King is not too worried about staffing even though he might have to work shifts that he might not typically work to get through Labor Day.

“After Labor Day we only need a quarter of the people that we need during the summer,” King said.

Between the couple of weeks between back to school time and Labor Day he creatively uses the staff available between all of the businesses. If there is a worker not needed at the wax museum they might go over to the Grapes & Grinds then vice versa.

“We’re kind of spreading out and evening out our staffing for those couple of weeks,” King said.

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