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Staff shortages in Victoria’s alpine region inspires viral online plan to bus in students

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

“I got 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’ll put something out on the community page. School holidays are coming up. The young kids might want some work’.”

On the Bright community Facebook page, I invited year 11 and 12 students who wanted weekend work, or work experience over 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,” said Mr Bonacci.

“Five or six hours later, I’m getting calls from Sydney, Brisbane, Central Australia, Hobart. I couldn’t believe it.”

The Alpine Spirit Coaches owner is connecting ski resorts with high school students looking for work.(Facebook)

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

“They tend to get knocked down. You know, people saying, ‘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 lacking staff

Like many businesses around the country, the ski resorts at Hotham, Dinner Plain and Falls Creek are suffering from workforce shortages.

“With COVID, there’s been a lot of angst over the last two years,” Mr Bonacci said.

“We haven’t had much work. Now we’ve got too much work and we haven’t got enough staff.”

Mr Bonacci runs the coach service with his wife, Nadina, and need extra staff themselves — about three of four more drivers.

“It’s the middle — transportation and accommodation.”

Mr Bonacci said they were already squeezing staff from other businesses into their houses at Dinner Plain, which was usually just a place for their drivers to rest and recover between shifts.

He hoped his new plan might alleviate a little bit of the pressure.

“I will talk to businesses and if there’s a big demand for staff, I’ve got the flexibility to change buses and transfers, and try to help out where I can,” Mr Bonacci said.

Not enough accommodation

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

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

Mr Belli said everybody on the mountain was working together to come up with any possible solutions to fill the gaps.

“If we can get a couple of people just to help, hiring slides and doing some of the work, it will definitely help,” he said.

“We’re just very short on staff.

Mr Belli said about 30 to 40 parents or kids had contacted him wanting to come up and work for two weeks.

“[It] is really good, but the problem still is that we don’t have enough accommodation,” he said.

He said they had managed to arrange for a couple of young people to come up next week, and were still working to find accommodation for more kids who wanted to come.

A ‘win-win’ long-term

They also hoped to turn it into a longer-term plan, suggesting they might try to pilot it with some local schools from next year.

A big sign saying Hotham Heights and a wooden building covered in ice and snow
Heavy snowfalls saw Mount Hotham and Falls Creek open their season a week early.(Supplied: Vail Resorts)

“It gives them a bit of a look into how the resort works and then they may want to pursue an alpine career.

“I think it’s a win-win, if we can sort the accommodation issue out.”

Mr Bonacci said businesses were highly motivated to help each other out, and to ensure 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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