How Amanda Gallant and her team used a pop-up drive-in theater to train seasonal ski resort employees during the year of Covid-19.
Highlights from Amanda Gallant’s Training Unleashed Podcast on December 8, 2020
All of us at Tortal Training were thrilled to host Amanda Gallant on a Training Unleashed Podcast that we presented last December 8th. Amanda, an expert on training large groups of employees, is Director of Human Resources at Sunday River Resort in Newry, Maine. Sunday River is one of New England’s top ski resorts. Incidentally, it is also a favorite resort of Tortal Training’s President Evan Hackel, who is an enthusiastic skier.
Part of Amanda’s job is breaking in and orienting a large number of seasonal employees. And make no mistake about it, those employees require great training. They have to provide attentive service to thousands of skiiers who visit Sunday River every ski season. Plus, they have to know how to respond to a variety of issues and events that can take place at ski resorts. And at the same time, they need to project an attitude that supports the idea that Sunday River offers a fun experience to families of skiers.
How did Amanda and her team to it this year? The story is amazing. You will want to listen to the complete Training Unleased podcast with Amanda. Here are some excerpts of her Training Unleased conversation with Evan Hackel.
Amanda: We go from about 400 team members in the summertime to over 1,500 in the winter. And we have a lot of different challenges when it comes to recruiting that many people, and then to onboarding them and to get them fully trained and ready to roll at the resort.
We can’t simply get 1,500 employees to the resort and get them all through training as quickly as possible. We have to determine how to fit the training into everybody’s schedules, how to classify people. Some people are new hires, others are returning and have had some sort of foundation at the resort. So we definitely have a lot of different challenges we have to work through. And then kind of on top of that is the challenge of the variety of different positions that we have at the resort.
Evan: About how many people are returning employees?
Amanda: It varies by department, but we probably have an overall retention rate of about 60 to 70 percent across the resort. So a lot of people are returning, which we’re really fortunate with. We get a lot of students. They’re going to school, so they can only work one or two days a week. Or we have retired employees who see working for us a just a fun gig to get a ski pass, too. It all brings a different diversity to the workforce that we have.
Evan: If you think about it, you’re bringing on 400 or 500 totally green people every year. And it’s not like you have six months to do it. I love your ski area and I’ve skied there a lot. I know that your training is not just about the job or job skills. It is also cultural training. Can we talk a little bit about that?
Amanda: Yes, absolutely. So our orientation up until this year is super fun. We have this big blowout every October, typically, where we get 400 to 500 employees that come back to the resort. It’s typically rehires and very few new hires that come to this big orientation. But it is anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. And we talk about the resort updates, new things, like capital projects that we’ve done over the summer. And it’s like our welcome back, homecoming party.
So this year with Covid, it’s been a challenge because we still want to have that fun and exciting atmosphere and community-building piece of it. But we really can’t get a group of 400 to 500 people in one room at the same time. So we started brainstorming, researching, figuring out what we would need to be able to pull this off and we decided to do a drive-in theater style orientation.
Evan: So I’ve seen a picture. You really created a drive-in theater, and had your orientation there, right?
Amanda: We had the projector and we got was a 30-foot screen. On our biggest night, we had just under 90 people there.
So we had our drive-in theater training over five nights and we’d just stagger the cars. And we had the senior team all there every single night. They were greeting people. We ordered specialty popcorn. So we had a different variety of popcorn that we were giving to each person that was driving in. And then we would park them all.
We had an FM transmitter, which really gave people the feeling that they were in a drive-in theater. It worked better than speakers.
And then we would do a quick intro, about a 30 minute video, and then at the end we would do a text-in Q&A session. We wanted people to still be able to have that conversation piece and talk through any questions or concerns or clarification that they needed. And so we still had that dialog going, which encouraged people to ask questions.
Evan: Do you plan to continue to use this highly creative way of training your employees?
Amanda: Absolutely, with a pandemic going on, we’re not going back. We’re going to do this moving forward and probably try to do it a little bit earlier in the year. We did it in November. So we probably try to move it more towards October, or even September.
But we are planning on using it for other drive in movie style, just presentations. I definitely think it’s an exciting event. It’s something different. So I think we’re going to do it at least for one more year just because it was really successful. And it was just a fun, fun opportunity to get people together while still being able to socially distance. The result was something people are going to remember.
Be Sure to Hear the Complete Conversation between Evan and Amanda
We know you will want to hear the complete Training Unleased podcast featuring Amanda Gallant. CLICK HERE and enjoy it today.