As an ice cream maker, seasonal employees are an important sector of our workforce at Velvet Ice Cream. We hire seasonal workers in the spring to staff Ye Olde Mill and take care of our more than 150,000 warm-weather visitors April through October.
These workers are typically local high school and college students who’ve returned for the summer. They lead tours, serve ice cream or greet customers in our restaurant and gift shop. They help with the annual Utica Sertoma Ice Cream Festival, which draws more than 40,000 visitors Memorial Day weekend. They host countless tour groups, serve up scoop after scoop of ice cream and are often the front line, presenting the face of our company to year-round customers.
Educating and empowering young people is important. Thus, we work to provide our seasonal staff with opportunities to learn and grow during their time with us. But the process of scaling up and down for seasonal workers can be a challenge for any business. At Velvet, decades of seasonality have taught us that careful preparation smooths the process, along with these guiding principles:
- Keep records. Keeping track of seasonal sales and visitors, breaking figures down by month, week, day and even the hour, offers a guide for future needs.
- Forecast and plan accordingly. Review each season, making notes for next year’s hiring needs. Track what worked, what didn’t and the best timeline for hiring. Technology has sparked new apps that make seasonal scheduling and forecasting a breeze.
- Recruit and train. Begin recruiting early. While low unemployment signals a strong economy, it also means more competition. Training needs to be speedy and enjoyable to get seasonal workers online quickly.
- Ask the source. Interview seasonal workers about how you can better recruit, train and retain them. They can be your most productive source for how to identify, attract and keep top seasonal staff.
- Reward and incentivize. Encourage strong attendance and performance by creating a fun culture where employees feel valued and are motivated. Contests, paid time off and other perks help. Encourage and incentivize referrals, especially from your best workers, who can help identify others just like them. Young people enjoy working alongside their friends and can more easily swap shifts when they need time off.
- Create return employees. It’s important to create systems to ensure seasonal employees come back. Ask your top employees about their employment goals and consider working those duties into a future position for high performers.
- Think outside the box. Older workers, retirees, special needs adults and other less obvious individuals make excellent employees. Social service agencies can link businesses with candidates, such as developmentally disabled workers or resettled immigrants.
The April 2 opening of the mill means a new crop of seasonal employees, so we’re already looking at ways to retain this group until the end of the season and encourage them to return next year.
Luconda Dager is the president of Velvet Ice Cream. Family-owned and operated since it was founded in 1914, Luconda is the fourth generation to run her family’s company in Utica. In addition to leading the company’s tremendous growth, Luconda is a frequent speaker and author, sharing her experiences and ideas with the region’s and her industry’s business community.