The final countdown has begun at MGM Springfield; the $950 million casino will be open for business in just over a year. That means roughly 3,000 people must be hired between now and then, a massive task that falls to a team that has already been hard at work for months.
That’s the number of applications that Wanda Gispert is expecting for the 3,000 or so positions that MGM Springfield must fill between now and opening night roughly a year from now — actually, well before opening night.
Doing the quick math, Gispert, who takes the title of regional vice president of Talent and Workforce Development for MGM Resorts International, acknowledges that this number equates to just over 40 applicants per job.
That might be the average, but the number of applicants will vary wildly with the position, she told BusinessWest, adding that, for top-level positions, like vice president of table games, there might be hundreds of candidates.
And then, for some positions, 40 applicants for each posting would be a blessing, but certainly not a reality.
“Being a butcher is a lost art — a lot of people don’t have that specific skill,” she said, adding that the casino will need a handful of such individuals. The same is true of pastry chefs and security personnel specifically trained to work with canines.
Filling the hundreds of different kinds of positions needed to operate MGM’s $959 million casino in Springfield’s South End is now Gispert’s responsibility. Actually, she leads a team of people that will handle this assignment, one she is still building.
As she goes about her work, she will draw on years of experience with meeting the considerable workforce challenges of major corporations within the broad hospitality sector.
Her specialty is opening new properties, and her résumé includes considerable work within the hotel industry, specifically with Marriott Hilton, opening more than 200 properties within the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, while serving on what is known as the ‘new-opening team.’
She later went to work for MGM Resorts International, and took the lead role in assembling the team of roughly 4,000 for the company’s National Harbor casino, which opened earlier this year.
She will also draw on a host of resources, everything from the area’s community colleges and workforce-related agencies to websites that can tell her which companies are downsizing across the country and, therefore, what types of talented individuals might be looking for work.
Overall, she said assembling a workforce for MGM Springfield will pose some challenges, but nothing out of the ordinary for such assignments.
The region boasts a large, qualified workforce, she noted, and it has the resources in place to train those who will need specific training, such as dealers. Meanwhile, MGM’s name and reputation within the gaming industry will bring a number of experienced workers into this market, giving the new casino ample talent to draw from as its fills out its team.
“With every market that we service, we see challenges in certain areas,” she explained, noting that this region would certainly not boast many experienced casino workers because legalized gaming only came to this state a year ago. “What’s encouraging about this area is that there are professions that easily transfer over to what we need; the banking industry is huge here, for example. From a cage-operations standpoint and how you run a casino behind the scenes — meaning accounting, finance, human resources, and other areas — we have a lot of positions there, but we know skills will transfer over.”
For this issue and its focus on employment, BusinessWest talked at length with Gispert about the hiring process for MGM Springfield and how things will unfold over the next year.
Surveying the Situation
As she assessed the challenge of staffing up at MGM Springfield, Gispert made a number of observations.
Among them is the fact this is a good time to be in a culinary-arts program, and for fairly obvious reasons made clear by her reference to pastry chefs and how hard it will be to find them. It’s also a good time to be a math teacher or a retired math teacher, for less-obvious reasons she would explain. And it’s a good time to be a bank teller, especially one who might be downsized in this time when there is need for fewer of those professionals.
As for math teachers and those who have retired from that profession, Gispert said they are the perfect sorts for the behind-the-scenes positions in surveillance.
“Those jobs are very different from security positions,” she explained. “Everyone in surveillance is given a math test; they have to understand all the games — poker, blackjack, craps, everything that we offer — and they need to be able to do math in their head very well, because if I’m watching a play, how do I know if an odd is being paid out properly?
“They catch mistakes; they catch possible cheating,” she went on. “They’re the eyes and ears of the casino. They must be really sharp, and their facial-recognition skills must be really strong.”
Loss-prevention specialists for major retailers would obviously be good candidates for such positions, she continued, but those math teachers and former math teachers are also ideal.
And teachers, in general, are good candidates for jobs through the casino, and for many reasons.
“They’re off every night, they’re off every weekend, they’re off for Christmas,” she said while listing some. “We love school teachers; many of our employers teach school because they have the perfect schedule.”
As noted, Gispert can talk about filling such positions from experience — lots of it.
A graduate of Georgia State’s respected hospitality program (the school is located in Atlanta, a popular site for conventions), she said she started her career on the front desk of a Holiday Inn at age 18 and has worked in a host of different positions within the hotel sector.
“I think that’s what’s given me my edge,” she told BusinessWest. “I’ve worked all of those jobs — I’ve washed dishes, I’ve made beds, I’ve worked in sales. You’re a jack of all trades at that point, and when you’re recruiting for those positions or training for them, you know what to look for, and you know how to train better because you’ve been in that position.”
As noted, she’s taken all that experience in hotels and added casino staffing to her résumé, assignments that are similar to hotels but have some additional wrinkles, such as host-community agreements, which stipulate commitments that the casino will make to hiring people from the specific host community and region surrounding it.
With MGM Springfield, that commitment is to have more than one-third (35%) of the workforce be comprised of people living in Springfield or from Springfield.
That last consideration is a very important one, said Gispert, adding that one of the things Springfield officials hoped to do by luring a casino here was to bring back some of those young people (with ‘young’ being a relative term) who decided they needed to go elsewhere to find fulfillment of their career aspirations.
That commitment to designate a third of the jobs to those with Springfield roots, as well as other commitments (to hire veterans, for example) is essentially a starting point for this assignment, said Gispert.
“That’s how I start crafting how I will approach my workforce-development game plan for the area,” she explained, adding that 90% of the workforce must come from this region, which is defined loosely as Greater Springfield.
Running down some of the numbers involved with her assignment (there are always lots of numbers to consider when talking about a casino), Gispert said the largest specific team, or department, will be dealers; roughly 600 of them will be needed for blackjack, poker, and other games. A large security force will also be needed, she went on, noting that roughly 200 individuals will be required for such work.
There will be a number of restaurants and catering operations, so about 150 culinary artists will be required, she said, adding that there are subsets within that broad realm (pastry chef, for example), and there will be about 80 cashier, or ‘cage,’ positions, as they’re called; these are people who will be handling money.
There are also a number of positions for which the casino will need just a few talented individuals, or perhaps even one. Butcher falls in that category, as does locksmith, security people that can work with dogs, and ‘master tailor’ (there will likely be just one of those).
When asked about the schedule moving forward when it comes to the process of putting a team in place, Gispert said the hiring has already begun in many areas, especially within the higher levels of management, meaning those who will lead the teams that will be assembled.
The matter of when specific positions will be filled will be determined by several factors, she went on, but especially how much training is involved and, obviously, when the employees in question will be needed.
As an example, she noted security personnel. This will be a large force, as noted, and one that will need extensive training. Also, in many cases, individuals will be needed long before the doors to the casino actually open.
“January is the month when a lot of positions will come on board,” she explained. “Because security and surveillance come in first; they take the longest to train, and you need them on the premises earlier than anyone else.
“Once equipment starts to be delivered, surveillance has to be there from that point on,” she went on. “Once slot machines and other equipment start to arrive, it cannot be left unsupervised; it’s 24 hours a day once they’re on the premises.”
And bringing someone onboard, if you will, is a lengthy process, said Jason Randall, who just went through it himself while being hired as director of Talent Acquisition & Development.
A veteran of the tourism industry in the human resources realm — he was a member of BusinessWest’s 40 Under 40 Class of 2014 as director of Human Resources for Peter Pan Bus Lines — he joined MGM in May. He said one of his primary responsibilities is taking new hires “from A to Z,” as he put it.
“Soon, we’ll start building out our human-resources team to start managing that on a volume scale,” he explained. “We’ll have a team that will take over halfway through the process to help initiate drug and background checks, complete offer letters, assisting with gaming-license processing, and eventually queueing everyone up for the big orientation dates.”
Those will be coming after some large hiring events late next spring and into the summer, he went on, leaving ample time for training before the casino opens.
As jobs need to be filled, the positions are posted on LinkedIn and job boards, said Gispert, adding that the response has thus far been solid, and it points toward overall numbers similar to what was experienced with National Harbor — thus that projection for 126,000 applications.
People can apply for as many as three jobs, and many do, she explained, which will be a factor in how many applications MGM receives, but overall, she’s expecting a very strong response, and from people of all ages.
“We reach out to AARP,” Gispert explained, “because a lot of people thought they wanted to be retired, then they retired and they decided, ‘no, I really want something back in the workforce.’”
As she talked about the process of creating a workforce for MGM Springfield, Gispert noted one challenge that might not be apparent to all.
“Not everyone will want to work for us,” she said with laugh, “because if you work for us, you can’t gamble here. Some people would rather be a customer than an employee.”
Perhaps, but she’s quite confident that this obstacle can be overcome as she goes about hiring dealers, security personnel, and even butchers and pastry chefs.
A year from now, roughly 3,000 people will be wearing ‘MGM Springfield’ nametags as part of the work attire. Getting to that point will be a challenge, but the casino and its workforce will be ready, she said.
You can bet on it.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]