Three decades later, Silverwood has hiring down to a science

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  • LOREN BENOIT/NIBJ From left, Ester Fairchild with Alpine Bark Blowing, Lisa Loi with the Coeur d’Alene School District and Linda Adam with Cabella’s discuss hiring practices during a training and recruiting workshop at the Idaho Department of Labor.

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    LOREN BENOIT/NIBJ Colleen Krajack with Raycap writes workplace improvements on a worksheet during a training and recruiting workshop at the Idaho Department of Labor.

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    LOREN BENOIT/NIBJ Local business representatives learn hiring, training and recruiting techniques during a workshop at the Idaho Department of Labor.

  • LOREN BENOIT/NIBJ From left, Ester Fairchild with Alpine Bark Blowing, Lisa Loi with the Coeur d’Alene School District and Linda Adam with Cabella’s discuss hiring practices during a training and recruiting workshop at the Idaho Department of Labor.

  • 1

    LOREN BENOIT/NIBJ Colleen Krajack with Raycap writes workplace improvements on a worksheet during a training and recruiting workshop at the Idaho Department of Labor.

  • 2

    LOREN BENOIT/NIBJ Local business representatives learn hiring, training and recruiting techniques during a workshop at the Idaho Department of Labor.

Silverwood Theme Park has a stack of strategies for attracting, recruiting, hiring, training and retaining its employees.

In the past 30-plus years, more than 17,000 employees have worked at the park.

They know how to hire and train their people.

A powerful hiring tactic is one of the simplest: Word of mouth.

“Word of mouth is one of the biggest recruiting tools. It can also be your downfall,” said Reid Wells, Silverwood’s employment services manager. “If you tell someone you’re going to call them and you don’t, you’re going to establish bad vibes, and they’re going to tell their friends.

"Word of mouth can benefit your company or definitely hurt your company. You have to make sure to take care and foster and encourage the employees you do have instead of saying, ‘Ah, I can get someone else.’ You really do have to nurture the environment that you work in."

"It doesn’t get any better than word of mouth,” said Silverwood training manager Nicole Walker.

Wells and Walker shared some of Silverwood's secrets during the first quarterly workshop at the Idaho Department of Labor in Post Falls in early March.

The dynamic duo delivered a lively, interactive presentation that involved some hands-on participation from the attendees, who included human resources personnel, managers, trainers, recruiters and other area professionals looking to boost their skill-sets and bring a few new strategies back to their companies.

Wells, Walker and their hiring and training teams have the important job of attracting new employees and retaining returning ones, and they have to have everybody ready by the time the park opens each May. They begin recruiting in February with roughly a two-day turnaround time.

“There is no one magical way to recruit all of the right people. When should you start recruiting?” Wells asked the crowd. “Right now. Probably yesterday.

"When should you stop recruiting? Never. Even if your positions are filled, it’s really important to keep recruiting. You get to fill the pool with qualified applicants as well as you prepare for attrition or any extended leaves that your employees might need."

Wells and Walker know that the most valuable asset a company has is its people. Time invested in staff is not time wasted.

As a theme park, Silverwood sells fun, so its hiring managers know from the get-go that the employees have to believe in the product as well as sell it to park guests.

"In the recruiting strategy, we have to bring in this idea that Silverwood is fun," Walker said. "We are fun, we’re out there, we’re wild, and we need to not only sell them on that idea that Silverwood is fun, but they get to create fun for other people."

This idea is built into Silverwood's culture. Training is energetic and entertaining, as well as educational.

"Our slogan for guests coming into the park is, ‘Don’t let anything stand in your way of fun,’" Wells said. "We also have a slogan for our employees, because we try to create a fun atmosphere for them as well: ‘This is my office.’ Not many people can say, ‘This is my office,’ and have a big smile on their face."

Getting to know applicants' personalities is a necessity for Silverwood trainers so they can place them in the proper roles. From ticket-takers to lifeguards to Scarywood haunters, Silverwood has a whole world of opportunities for applicants of all ages.

One way to see how employees work in group situations is by playing a game called "Red Ball." Standing in a circle, trainees have an imaginary ball that they must pass to each other. To pass the ball, they must make eye contact with another person, ask, "Red ball?" and wait to hear the "Red ball" reply before passing it to that person.

The game was played during the Department of Labor workshop. Interestingly, different groups had different outcomes — more than one ball, different colors, different sizes and other improvisations depending on the personalities. It's another simple yet powerful tactic to see who arises as a leader, who prefers to follow, who tends to be more creative and so on.

"If they’ve got the right attitude, we can train for skill. We have roller coasters and water slides; we can train that skill," Walker said. "We just need someone who’s going to be able to work with others and work with us and wants to do that."

Another piece of helping employees "find their tribe" and become a part of Silverwood's culture comes from company events, volunteer opportunities and kickoff meetings, all of which keep the employees engaged.

Walker said 16.5 percent of the U.S. workforce is actively disengaged: "Those are the people that are the poison in your companies. They are undermining training, undermining authority, they hate their jobs and they want to bring people onto their bandwagon to hate their jobs as well. These people hate their lives on a daily basis and they make your lives miserable."

Trainers realize it's crucial to counter this disengagement, through free movie nights, employee water park events, basketball or dodgeball tournaments or Saturday mornings hanging out and eating cereal and watching cartoons.

“They work long hours out there for Silverwood, and some of them really want to because we don’t have a cap. There’s no 40-hour cap for us; you can work as much as you want, as long as you’re within your safety parameters,” Walker said. "But that means they’re not at home, they’re not spending days out on the lake with their family, they’re not with their kids. So when we say, ‘Hey, we’re having a water park party, you can bring your kids,’ they’re like, ‘A free night into the water park with my kids and I don’t have to wait in line?’

"We recognize that we pull people away from their families," Walker continued. "It’s important to give them opportunities to involve their loved ones in the Silverwood family."

Physical and emotional safety is also a huge priority for Silverwood. Aside from ensuring each employee is physically able to do his or her job, Walker said she implemented the "yellow walls of safety" so employees are comfortable to talk to her and other trainers when they have a concern.

"It's increased the amount of response that people come and talk to us," she said. "Give people a place to go, give them somebody to talk to."

Even something as easy as stretching has improved morale for employees.

"That’s a fun thing. Throw some music on," Walker said. "We had our lowest worker’s comp concerns when we were stretching with them every single day. Last year, we had fewer injuries than we’ve ever had before because people didn’t have things that were strained or pulled… Stretching is a great opportunity to create connectivity and tell them, ‘I’m concerned for your health and well being.’ It’s also fun. Everyone loves to be limber."

Companies don't need water parks and movie theaters to make safe, fun and open environments that keep their employees happy and healthy.

“If you can create and foster that fun atmosphere outside of the company as well, you’re going to have people who want to stay with you, engage with your audience and know your employees,” Walker said. "Create your cult, find your tribe.”

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