Theme Parks Look to Hire as Workers Look for the Best Deals

May 11, 2021, 12:56 PM · Ever wanted to work in a theme park? Now is the time to apply. Today, Universal Orlando sent me a press release announcing that it is looking to hire more than 2,000 people for full-time, part-time, seasonal, and professional positions at the resort. That follows similar press releases from Six Flags, Cedar Fair, and just about every park in this business.

You might have read and seen recently a lot of stories about a so-called labor shortage in America right now. Like with any story involving money and power, you can find an enormous number of partisan sources bloviating on this issue. Heck, I have at least four emails in my in-box right now from press agents offering to set up interviews with people at corporate-funded think tanks who want to be quoted about the country's labor situation. But the real reason that employers are struggling to fill positions right now has pretty much nothing to do with increased unemployment benefits or lazy workers.

It's really all about timing.

As America recovers from the pandemic, tons of employers are looking to staff up, all at once. That shifts power from employers to potential employees. Think about it. If you're looking for a job and there are only a few available, you're likely to take the first halfway decent offer you get, because who knows if you will get another?

But when job openings are abundant - as they are now - you're going to wait to accept only the best possible deal you can get. A halfway decent offer? Forget it. I'll keep looking for something better.

The employers who are filling positions right now are the ones who are paying not just way above minimum wage, but offering pay way above their competitors'. They are offering flexible full-time hours, generous benefits and - most important - a positive, supportive and even nurturing work environment.

If you are paying federal minimum wage, offering take-it-or-leave-it scheduling with no benefits and have a reputation for allowing customers and managers to walk all over your employees, yeah, no one's taking your job offers right now. And it's even worse for those employers now, as the abundance of openings elsewhere is encouraging their current employees to jump ship, leaving the cheapskates with even more positions to fill.

A decades-long baby bust in America is not making things easier for industries that typically rely upon younger workers, including restaurants and, yes, theme parks. Closed international borders that have sharply reduced immigration also have squeezed the labor supply.

Eventually, as top employers fill their openings, the labor market will become a late-stage game of musical chairs, and workers will rush to take whatever they can get again. But that's not where we are at right now. So if you have any lingering curiosity why Disney updated its "Disney Look" standards recently, now you know. It's all about creating a work environment that makes employees feel welcomed and empowered, rather than one where workers feel intimidated and controlled.

Here are links to major theme park companies' hiring websites:

Look around, if you are interested. See what's available. Just don't forget - if you want to get a position with the best possible employer - that you should always remember to smile.

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Replies (6)

May 11, 2021 at 2:04 PM

I think the international travel issues are the biggest roadblock for theme parks right now. So many theme parks rely heavily on foreign workers during peak seasons, and in previous years have committed massive resources to recruit, transport, and house foreign workers. Some parks have built on-site infrastructure (dorms/hotels) to cater to these short-term international workers, and without that usual influx of labor from overseas, parks are scrambling to figure out how to fill the void. Even with the investments into housing international workers and paying for their travel to the US, the overall costs were significantly less than domestic workers because minimum wage to these employees represented a much larger paycheck than they could get at home. Because these workers only stayed for a few months, parks didn't have to provide any benefits beyond housing, food/drink, and pay, and because these workers were being housed on site, many were willing to work OT since they would rarely stray from their local markets on their free time.

Now parks have to woo a larger percentage of domestic workers with little guarantee that the investments made to lure, onboard, and pay these employees will help to retain them. Also, the same types of employees theme parks are looking for are being recruited in other service industries, which are similarly facing a labor shortage. Restaurants, hotels, resorts, pools, tourist attractions and more are all scrambling to fill positions at the same time and trying to do so before the flood gates open (most likely at the end of the month). It's going to be survival of the fittest at this point, and a lot of hospitality experts are warning that customers flocking back to summer destinations should expect a significantly decreased level of service not only because of the labor shortage, but also because of the increased cost for the labor and lack of training due to expedited onboarding processes.

Honestly, I'm pretty surprised at how fast the switches appear to be flipping on (even here in DC, the Mayor announced yesterday that even indoor entertainment venues can go back to 100% capacity - currently just 10% - in a month on June 11). For any venue to go from even 25% (the current capacity for most outdoor venues) to 100% capacity in a month is going to put a HUGE strain on labor and other associated resources. Customers are in for a rude awakening when they venture out seeking "normalcy" only to find ridiculous lines, poor and inaccurate service, and an industry in general disarray. Pandemic-weary customers will not have the patience to deal with these inevitable growing pains, and those companies that stumble out of the gate will have serious backlash that may be even worse than they faced during the pandemic.

It's definitely going to be an interesting summer, and while the tourism and hospitality industry are probably grateful for (and will be advertising) a summer of relative normalcy, customers/guests need to be ready for a lot of bumps in the road, and expect that you probably won't find many great values or places that provide the same level of service that they did before 2020.

May 11, 2021 at 2:44 PM

Small businesses and large franchises alike in my area are cutting hours of business (or shutting their doors altogether) because they cannot find enough workers. Yes, these are mostly jobs paying minimum wage or slightly higher (with many paying higher to entice workers), but it is still more profitable to accept the increased unemployment entitlements.

With the summer approaching, there should be enough young people out of school to cover some of these openings in the short term. That will give the government enough time to prepare those accepting unemployment to expect to go back to the pre-Covid payment amounts.

May 11, 2021 at 7:03 PM

Many thanks for the links to the job pages Robert. I'd love a little part time job at one of the parks, especially UO as it's only 4 miles from where I live.

Rock and a hard place really, as 10-12 hours/week would nicely supplement my pension, but do I want to work there having to wear a mask?

But your links are a great start .... just got to make up my mind now !!

May 11, 2021 at 11:59 PM

USH team Member here and they pretty much call back all the full-timers(Well those who chose to comeback) to the park. They want to hire more workers due to the summer season(Though the priority will be those who were laid off during the closure to be rehired).

May 12, 2021 at 12:33 PM

Like Russell said its always been a thing in the hospitality business to rely heavily on foreign workers especially when their main labor force is in school. In my experiences working in the industry for the decades that I have personally seen the foreign work programs go from something that was really well intended and worked well, to basically being straight up exploitation because these parks don't want to raise wages so it seemed like they kept raising the amount of international temporary work visa employees every year. It wasn't uncommon pre-pandemic to go to Disney World and walk around the parks at night and it seemed like the place was run entirely by foreign workers. I dont think its a coincidence that the past couple seasons with foreign workers not being allowed into the country that parks have finally started to substantially increase their wages even SFGADV is starting at $15 an hour now. These parks were basically minimum wage from when they opened all the way until a couple years ago.

Although I do think just like everything else these employment numbers are being over-politicized as well. A lot of people are saying that increased federal unemployment benefits are keeping people from working low wage jobs, which i'm sure this is the case for a very small amount of people, but there are many other factors that go into it as well. By this point most people have exhausted their state benefits and I find it hard to believe people are staying out of the labor force to collect a $300 a week federal check. The supply chain of everything is in complete chaos right now because of the shut down and demand for everything high because the economy is booming, so I think a lot of this will work itself out over the next year. I wouldn't say anything that's happening right now is something we shouldn't have expected.

May 14, 2021 at 11:37 AM

Great read.

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