When I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I was a bit fixated on what struck me as one of the world’s greatest jobs – ride operator at an amusement park. Keep in mind that the only real-life experience I had to compare it with was babysitting, house cleaning, cashiering, and repairing books at the library - nothing terribly exciting.
In contrast, those nineteen/twenty-year-olds who operated amusement park rides were working in a cool, fun job in a fairytale setting. They were in the outdoors, dealing with happy, excited people (or at least people relieved to have made it to the front of the line) and I could see some sociable bonds of friendship often when they crossed paths with other workers.
I grew up in Ohio and Cedar Point was the holy grail
Yes, my family would gladly go to Geauga Lake Park. When we visited relatives in Cincinnati, King’s Island was often on the agenda. But Cedar Point signified the high echelon of park experiences.
One of my mother’s most memorable and inspired ideas was hiring a chartered bus and inviting every child we knew, relatives and friends, to go to Cedar Point together. And she cooked a huge fried chicken picnic to boot. I don’t know how many kids there were – maybe twenty? But it was a day that is fondly remembered over forty years down the line.
So, I tend to have rather positive associations with my Cedar Point experiences. But I have not been in a long time. I certainly haven’t been n 2021. And from what disgruntled customers are saying about the park’s “post-pandemic” re-opening, Cedar Point could use a little bit more time to get its act together. Specifically, it sounds as if they are criminally understaffed.
Opening week guests are not happy campers
What are they complaining about? Being in the park for four hours and only getting on two rides. Or being at the park for a full day and only getting to three rides. Waiting in line for forty-five minutes and then being told that the roller is down. And having that happen twice. Paying for a Fast Lane Pass and still having to wait sixty minutes for a ride. Forty-five to sixty-minute waits for food – one mother just gave up and drove her kids to McDonald’s.
There were too many rides unavailable. But even more frustrating for the guests were the excessive waits for the attractions and food services that were actually open.
Cedar Point has to lure more workers in ASAP. And I can only think of one strategy that’s going to accomplish that. Higher wages.
Ride operators and food service workers are getting $9 an hour. If it were a full-time year-round job (it’s not), that would amount to a yearly income of $17,280 before taxes – just enough to put a family of two under the poverty line. And there’s no extra pay for overtime hours.
Gen Z is no pushover
But these employees are just young people, right? They don’t have families to support. They don’t need really good incomes. Except…there are signs that today’s young workforce not only want a satisfying work experience. They want a living wage as well.
Cedar Point is well aware of its staffing difficulties. “Like businesses in our area, in Ohio and across the country, Cedar Point is not immune to hiring challenges. However, we’ve increased wages, enhanced employment incentives like a $500 sign-on bonus and introduced dozens of new full-time, year-round positions.”
Yes, that $9 an hour actually represents a wage increase. But it’s unlikely to be enough to lure in the staff required for an optimally functioning park.
People just don’t want to work…
…for low wages. This has been a big topic of discussion as the U.S. economy begins to open up after a year of pandemic lockdowns. Employers in retail, restaurants, manufacturing, services, and skilled trades are struggling to find workers to fill their empty positions.
Many lay the blame on too much federal unemployment assistance. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and several other governors have recently turned down a three-month extension of the $300 a week benefits (it would have gone until September 2021, now benefits will end June 26.) DeWine specifically said that he was responding to the plight of business owners and their needs for a larger pool of job applicants.
I don’t know if Cedar Point and these other employers are going to benefit from that strategy. It’s quite possible that potential workers have assessed that being “stuck” in a low wage position will deprive them of their availability for a better paying position as well the time to search for it.
Yes, higher wages might be the answer
You may have heard of a Pittsburgh ice cream shop owner who recently had to fill sixteen positions to re-open his store. He raised the starting wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 and received one thousand applications in the first week. He says this move created enough publicity and increased business so that his business’ profit has not suffered because of these pay increases.
I’m also reminded of a large group of senior nomad workers who drive around the country in their RVs looking for seasonal work – from picking pumpkins, to selling Christmas trees, to holiday work at Amazon warehouses and retail stores. They’ll settle down for several weeks and do pretty much any kind of work. As long as it’s well-paid.
Cedar Point can’t forego a full staff indefinitely
Parks like Cedar Point get their fair share of first-timers every year. But if I had to guess, I’d say the majority of their yearly guest are repeat customers. Like my family – growing up, it was the highlight of our summer.
But the park is not opening on a good foot this year. Some of those disgruntled customers will not be coming back. Others don’t want to waste their time and money - there will enough bad word-of-mouth spreading about the park to keep them away. They’ve already taken to Twitter and Reddit in a big way.
It would be one thing if the park could claim that everything would be smoothed out after the first week or two. But that can’t happen until the staff is restored to its full size. And that seems unlikely to happen until Cedar Point shifts around its budget and makes room for more attractive[c1] wages.
It still has the potential to be a dream job
Fresh air. Life outside the office and the cubicle. Potential for worker camaraderie. Free tickets to gift to family and friends. But the best businesses care as much about their employees as they do their customers and worker compensation is the most important element to optimize. Price it right and you’ll have those nomadic seniors and recent high school grads fighting each other for these jobs. Price it wrong and Cedar Point customers are destined to have a disappointing season.