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Hiring from Columbus, Prague, and Warsaw

July 24, 2001
Related Topics: Candidate Sourcing, Featured Article
Only 325 employees work year-round at Cedar Fair's flagship park, Cedar Point, which becomes a ghost town of dinosaur-like metal skeletons soon after Labor Day. "The creature is brought back to life every April," says Katja Rall-Koepke, the park's director of human resources. Cedar Fair is the nation's fifth-largest amusement park operator, which last year attracted 11.7 million guests to its nine parks in five states.

Name:CedarFair, L.P.

Every year, 6,000 college students are hired for the summer season as ride operators, retail clerks, waiters, hotel bellboys, and campground leaders. Each one, including past employees, participates in a daylong orientation that is followed by a few hours to a few days of training in a specific job. Students earn $6.25 per hour, and can qualify for bonuses. And while even a low-level job at a Fortune 500 company could appeal to a graduating student looking for résumé-polishing prestige, few companies can lure their recruits with exclusive access to a teeth-jarring 92-mile-per-hour descent from one of the world's tallest roller coasters. That's one of the perks offered by Cedar Fair's in-house recruiters.

Beginning in December, department managers visit college job fairs on 55 campuses in six states over five months. "If we had to rely on our geographic area, there's no way we could staff the park," Rall-Koepke says. The park also buys banner ads on college Web pages that offer employment sites.

In recent years, the park has experienced more difficulty recruiting from colleges. It's hard to compete when even juniors are being wined and dined by prospective employers who offer generous signing bonuses for internships. Cedar Fair turned to Eastern Europe, recruiting students through an established exchange program. Only 30 students came the first year. But for the past three years, the park has hired 1,000 English-speaking students from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and Romania.

"Guests enjoy interacting with them," Rall-Koepke says. "They have a very positive effect on our domestic kids." The foreign students often have a stronger work ethic than their American counterparts, and are eager to work as many hours as possible. Their summer earnings often are the equivalent of their parents' annual incomes, she says.
While park summer jobs lack traditional benefits such as health insurance, Cedar Fair provides other unusual perks. About 3,400 employees live at the park in dormitory-style housing that costs about $31 a week per person. The park began operations in the 1870s, and has offered housing since the 1920s, expanding its facilities to keep pace with its growth. To be eligible for subsidized housing, students must live more than 30 miles from the park.

During off-hours, student employees are also free to take advantage of Cedar Point's mile-long beach and are permitted free entry into the park. After the park closes each night, one ride is kept running for the exclusive use of employees. For coaster-loving thrill-seekers, this is the ultimate perk: unlimited use and no waiting in line.

In an effort to keep student hires for as long as possible, Cedar Fair promises a bonus. If students fulfill their work agreements -- generally for 10- or 12-week stints -- they earn an extra dollar per hour. About a third of the park's summer hires return the following year. The recruitment rate is best in areas such as Bowling Green and Kent State Universities, where the park is well-known. "We've had difficulty attracting people when McDonald's is paying $8 or $9 an hour in Columbus," Rall-Koepke says.

But Cedar Fair's staffing boss expects that her job will be easier than in years past because of the economy. Many employers are revoking summer internships offered to students, she says. "I think more parents will be saying, 'You need to work this summer.'"

Workforce, July 2001, pp. 66-67 -- Subscribe Now!

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