Oxbow Bend, Snake River

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

One Dishwasher At A Time by Bill Berg

In May 2012, the Founder and President of, Bill Berg, delivered this speech to the Yellowstone Business Partnership annual conference held at Jackson Lake Lodge, just a few weeks before the 40th anniversary of his first day of work in Yellowstone National Park pumping gas for Yellowstone Park Service Stations (YPSS).

We think it’s a powerful point of view, give it a read!

As one of many who’ve had their life changed by seasonal work, I believe in the transformational power of seasonal jobs in great places.

What is the value proposition for a seasonal employee in this region? Is it swapping time for money, time on for time off, building a resume, advancement, or taking a first step towards establishing residency?  A great place to party?  It can be all of those things, and more. No small part of the equation is that you offer the opportunity to live and work in a place where others pay dearly to vacation. Sell your jobs – then make more of them by showing your passion and your ethic and sending them on their way with a valuable work experience, a look at some UnCommon Sense, an unparalleled life experience and a reference.  Help make their time with you count towards their next steps and yours.

The US population was 160 million when I was born — it’s 313 million now. Eighty two percent of the US population was urban in 2008, and that segment is growing. Un-messed with places like the Greater Yellowstone Area are increasingly unique. The intrinsic value is immeasurable.  The economic value is significant and should grow as development in the region makes this area stand out even more. Lewis and Clark could not have imagined.

What’s the value proposition of a good hire for a seasonal employer?  Getting through the season? Grabbing the best of each seasonal crop for the next season? Grooming the best of the best for greater things for your organization, the region and beyond?

What’s the value proposition for the region and for the future? How about growing the regional talent pool, giving an urban person a taste of wild country and an Uncommon Sense way of doing business and living that they can take back to their lives and future employers elsewhere?

More than 4,000 seasonal employees are at work in Yellowstone at peak season.  Throw in Grand Teton and the ranches, resorts, and shops across this landscape and there are a LOT of summer jobs for locals and seasonal immigrants.

Which leads to my next belief — I believe that seasonal employees are an annual visitor segment that is mission-critical to the long-term future of the region.

My wife worked for a concessioner in the mid 70’s, moved on to a career with the Park Service and recently retired.  Her successor started with Xanterra a couple of decades later. This intake program is still at work. You don’t have to look beyond this group to find more compelling stories of wet-behind-the-ears people who arrived in the region in their teens and twenties to make beds, wash dishes, pump gas and have gone on to build lives and careers here — folks who have made significant contributions to their communities and the region. This place attracts a lot of passion and talent, sorts it out through the crucible of full-combat-mode seasonal jobs, and promotes the able in successive seasons. The scarcity of year-round opportunities culls the herd even more as economic realities test the mettle and luck of those who want to stay as they work to find or create a niche that earns them a role. This process has been salting the region with talent for decades. Businesses, non-profits, and government agencies here are rich with passion and talent as a result. Those who provide entry level seasonal jobs are the incubators – – changing the world one dishwasher at a time.

Jan asked me to share ideas for building a seasonal workforce into a year ‘round program.  In a round-about way, maybe I’ve described a way that’s been working for the region.  In a more direct way, you can see Vail Resort’s strategy at play here at Jackson Lake Lodge.  Vail owns ski resorts as well as summer resorts.  Some of their staff go back and forth, building a career path in the process. Xanterra is able to do this to an extent as well with their summer and winter properties.  Many summer employers will establish relationships with winter employers – park concessioners with ski resorts, for example – and refer employees back and forth.  In a less structured way, this can help build a career path or, at least, keep people employed and in the region.  It’s interesting to contemplate the potential for arranging benefits that pass back and forth and developing a more efficient regional talent pool.

It’s late May.  This hotel and many operations in the region are just opening their doors for another round. To see the future, take a look at the fresh faces of the employees serving the meals, making the beds, and working the front desk. Take a peek behind those closed doors in the basement, behind the restaurant, towards the employee dining room and the dorms.  The young woman I met in the parking lot with the radio and clipboard worked at the Rosario Resort – courtesy of CoolWorks – then found her way here. The guy who checked me in just graduated from college and does he ever have a spark. Come back and look for that spark in August. August smiles are our future.

That was a terrific meal. I wonder what the future holds for the hands that prepared it and served it and those who are washing our dishes right now? The future of your organization and our region may well be in those hands.

They’ve got next.

— Bill Berg, CoolWorks Founder