Staff shortages in Victoria’s alpine region inspire viral online plan to deploy students

Written by Javed Iqbal

When Chris Bonacci’s friend planned to close a Mount Hotham snowplay business for a few days due to staff shortages, he would do anything.

“I came home. I made a hot Milo and I sat down,” Mr. Bonacci said.

“I’ve never done anything like this before, but I thought, ‘Well, I want to put something on the community side. The school holidays are approaching. The young kids might want some work.'”

On the Bright community’s Facebook page, he invited students ages 11 and 12 who wanted weekend work or work experience during the school holidays to get in touch so he could connect them with local businesses that desperately need staff.

He offered his bus service, Alpine Spirit Coaches, to help get them up the mountain.

“It went viral,” Mr Bonacci said.

“Five or six hours later I get calls from Sydney, Brisbane, Central Australia, Hobart. I could not believe it.”

A bus saying Alpine Spirit on the side is parked on a snow-covered road with snow-covered trees behind
The Alpine Spirit Coaches owner associates ski resorts with high school students looking for work.(Facebook)

Bonacci said he was impressed with how many young people wanted to work, leaving him “so impressed with the young generation”.

“They tend to get knocked down. You know, people say, ‘They’re lazy. They don’t want to work,'” he said.

“I sound like an old man, but I’m so proud of the young generation.”

Lots of work but lacks staff

Like many businesses around the country, the ski resorts of Hotham, Dinner Plain and Falls Creek suffer from labor shortages.

“With COVID, there has been a lot of anxiety over the last two years,” Mr Bonacci said.

“We have not had much work. Now we have got too much work and we do not have enough staff.”

Mr. Bonacci runs the bus service together with his wife, Nadina, and even needs extra staff – about three out of four more drivers.

“It’s the center – transportation and accommodation.”

Sir. Bonacci said they were already pushing staff from other businesses into their house on Dinner Plain, which was usually just a place for their drivers to rest and recover between shifts.

He hoped his new plan could ease some of the pressure.

“I want to talk to companies and if there is a huge demand for staff, I have the flexibility to switch bus and transfer and try to help where I can,” Bonacci said.

Not enough accommodation

His friend Steve Belli not only runs the Snow Stuff Park business that inspired the plan, but is also president of the Mount Hotham Chamber of Commerce.

man in black vest with walkie talkie and yellow gloves in snow
Staff shortages have made it difficult for Steve Belli to keep his snowball shop open at times. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Michael Ortolan)

Sir. Belli said everyone on the mountain worked together to find possible solutions to fill in the gaps.

“If we can get a few people to just help, rent a toboggan and do some of the work, it will definitely help,” he said.

“We just need a lot of staff.

Belli said about 30 to 40 parents or children had contacted him to get up and work for two weeks.

“[It] is really good, but the problem is still that we do not have enough accommodation, he said.

He said they had managed to arrange a couple of young people to come up next week and they were still working on finding housing for more children who would come.

And ‘win-win’ long-term

They also hoped to make it a more long-term plan, suggesting they might try it with some local schools from next year.

A large sign saying Hotham Heights, and a wooden building covered in ice and snow
Heavy snowfall caused Mount Hotham and Falls Creek to open their season a week early.(Delivered to: Vail Resorts)

“It gives them a little insight into how the resort works, and then they might pursue an alpine career.

“I think it’s a win-win if we can fix the housing issue.”

Bonacci said companies were very motivated to help each other and ensure that people could keep coming up the mountain to experience the Alpine region.

“We took some people yesterday to the snow for the first time and a lady started crying when we took her out – 60 years old, never seen snow,” he said.

“And that’s why we do it. I love what we do.”

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Javed Iqbal

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