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Still in need of workers, Mohegan Sun sees increase in turnout at 'hiring event'

Mohegan — It was no stampede.

But job seekers did descend on a Mohegan Sun “hiring event” in substantial numbers Wednesday morning, suggesting people these days are more interested in working than they were in the spring when the state’s COVID-19 restrictions were first being eased.

Less than three hours into the daylong event, more than 100 candidates had submitted applications and met with interviewers.

“It’s better, but it’s nowhere near what we need it to be,” Jeff Hamilton, Mohegan Sun’s president and general manager, said of the turnout.

Mohegan Sun began conducting on-site job fairs in May, offering sign-on bonuses of $2,000 for culinary workers and $500 for housekeepers, the two categories in which demand most outstripped supply. Openings in such areas as food and beverage, event support, security, marketing, VIP, hotel and retail also were abundant.

For the most part, they still are.

Hamilton said the casino has had hiring events every couple of weeks since September and tries to schedule an orientation session for new employees once a week, regardless of whether it’s for five or 60 people.

“Our goal is to hire 60 people a week for the next four weeks,” he said. “Of course, we’re always losing a few, too. ... That’s the industry.”

Mohegan Sun's workforce now numbers nearly 5,000, down from more than 7,000 before the pandemic.

While the casino offers jobs on the spot at the hiring events, new hires have to go through state and/or tribal licensing processes that can involve background checks and take two to three weeks to complete. 

Hamilton said he’s seen a change in the way people approach work, which has implications for the casinos. 

“In this industry, you have to work nights, weekends, holidays. Fewer and fewer people are willing to do that,” he said. “The industry has changed. We have to get more efficient.” 

That means casinos will have to get by with fewer employees, which will require greater automation of services. An example, Hamilton said, is the self-serve kiosks that enable hotel guests to check in themselves. 

There’s another reason the casinos may continue to find it challenging to maintain current staffing levels. 

“In the southeastern Connecticut labor market, we’re competing against a major defense industry,” Hamilton said. “We may not be able to get to where we want to be.” 

He said Mohegan Sun is “definitely feeling the pinch” of Electric Boat’s ramped-up recruitment of employees as it seeks to meet the demands of increased submarine production at the company’s Groton shipyard. EB offers apprenticeships and other training programs to prepare workers for skilled jobs. 

According to Hamilton, Mohegan Sun has had no problem finding people to work at its temporary sportsbook, and anticipates no problem staffing its permanent sportsbook, which is expected to open next month. Retail sports betting at the casinos debuted Sept. 30, and online wagering is expected to start as soon as next week. 

“There’s a labor market for people who love sports and want to work,” Hamilton said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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