|Hiring and Scheduling Practices
A common stumbling block that comes up when talking to new applicants is Ouzel’s concept of being “hired”. Being hired to work for Ouzel and being hired to work in a more standard job can mean very different things. At Ouzel, we rely heavily on the training and “swamping” process to determine who we hire each year. Technically speaking, anyone who is selected and makes it through training, makes it through the “dead time” in late May and early June, and swamps a sufficient number of Ouzel trips to be scheduled becomes an employee of Ouzel. What we can’t offer to people we hire, which most standard jobs can, is a set or stable schedule. If you are someone who needs to have the assurance of a consistent schedule, guiding at Ouzel is probably not the right fit for you. When people hear that we don’t offer much of a schedule to first year guides (whether experienced or not) they think, “Well, it doesn’t sound like I’m going to get any work.” This is definitely not the case. Several elements combine to make our scheduling practices the way that they are:
- It is impossible to predict what kind of guide Ouzel is potentially going to hire with only an interview. Even if the interview takes place on a river stretch, that only gives us an inkling of one’s technical skill. We are looking for guides who can give our guests the quality trip that they have come to expect. That takes a lot of qualities that cannot be assessed in an interview, such as exceptional people skills, the ability to work well on a team and many other factors. It really takes seeing how a guide works out over the course of a season to assess if they are the caliber of guide that Ouzel expects. We assess a guide's value to us, not on seniority (although that is a necessary element), but on performance. The first year at Ouzel is, in many ways, a season-long interview. We are essentially asking the new guide to “show us what you can do” – to prove to us through their actions that they deserve a more permanent position at Ouzel.
- At Ouzel, we run a wide variety of trips. Trips are developing and changing right up to the day before the trip launches. Because of this, we often don’t know how may guides we are going to need on any given day. It’s very tough to go through the training, wait out the dead period between training and mid June, and then have to trust that the phone will ring and you will get work. We know it’s tough, but we can’t guarantee work when Ouzel is not guaranteed bookings.
- The natural progression of a guide at Ouzel is unique. Most of our guides start with little or no experience and go through our training program. After making it through training, they mostly work local day-trips for the first season while honing their paddleboat skills. Some may work on their rowing skills and will likely swamp one or more multi-day trips to get a feel for how those trips operate. Oftentimes, new guides will combine both by borrowing an oar raft to swamp multi-day trips (in between their paid day trips), gaining experience with our camps, procedures, and getting some rowing practice at the same time. Some, who already know how to row, might get the opportunity to work either local or satellite (Rogue or Salmon) multi-day trips in the first season, if they have taken the opportunity to go out and swamp that trip earlier on. In their second season, guides will typically continue to work day-trips but will spend much more of their working time out on local multi-day trips and will probably work a satellite multi-day trip or two. The bulk of their work will still be on day-trips, but perhaps 25% of their river days will come from multi-days. In the third season, the guide should be experienced on most of the stretches of river that Ouzel offers and have a solid feel for the standards and procedures that Ouzel demands. They will continue to do day-trips but will work even more multi-days and will end up with maybe 50% of their work on local and satellite multi-day trips. At some point, enough of the senior staff will have moved on and the new guide will have moved up to a point on the guiding ladder that allows them to work almost exclusively on satellite multi-days, just filling in now and then on day-trips. That said, there are quite a few guides that take a different path. Some may like sleeping in their own bed every night and will prefer to stay local, working only day-trips. Others like more variety and will prefer a combination of rivers and trips, avoiding being placed on a crew that works Rogue or Salmon trips all the time.
Our guide staff is experienced and loyal with most returning to work for us each year. When you combine the “natural progression” with a low turnover rate it is relatively easy (and preferable) for us to fill the positions of departing guides from within. Our newer and mid-level guides have earned their positions as well as the right to move up. We would not be able to maintain the loyalty of our staff if we filled our vacant and most sought after positions with experienced guides new to Ouzel.
What does all this mean for the person applying for a guiding job at Ouzel? For inexperienced and experienced applicants alike, you have to be patient, and you have to be committed to the lifestyle that comes with guiding. You have to be patient because, no matter how experienced you are, you will be hired into a staff that has an existing hierarchy and who Ouzel is committed to keeping; it may take a few seasons to get on the crew or to get the schedule that you really want.
You have to be committed to the lifestyle of guiding because, no matter where you go, it is an industry driven by bookings. No one is going to pay you to work a trip that they don’t need you on or that hasn’t booked. The hard fact is that, for a guide, experienced or not, working their first year at a company, they will be at (or near) the bottom of the totem pole and will probably not get as much work as they would have liked. The guide new to Ouzel has to trust that we would not spend the money and the time in training you and bringing you up to speed on our rivers if we didn’t have the intention of earning that money back by putting you to work.
Our goal is to schedule out guides as far as is possible so that guides know when and where they will be working. In practice however, that is extremely difficult to accomplish. By late May, our top 6 or 8 guides have an idea of their rough schedule because most of our multi-day trips have at least enough bookings to make the trips go and we can start assigning guides to them. Not knowing how bookings will continue however, we can only guess about what trips the rest of the staff will be working. In early June, as day-trips start coming in and the multi-day trips continue to fill, we start to add guides to the multi-days throughout the season and can start to assign rough schedules for the following week on day-trips. As the season continues to get busier and busier, more and more guides are added to the multi-days and schedules become slightly more predictable for most of the staff. As you might have gathered, that leaves first year guides filling in the holes in the schedule anywhere from 2 or 3 weeks to one hour before the trips start. If asked, most of our newer guides would say that they were not optimistic about the amount of work they would receive during their first season. When asked at the end of the season, however, most were very happy with the schedules and amount of work they ended up with.