Ann Simmons Nicholson has hired gaming industry workers in good times and bad.
“There were times where, if you were good, you could name your price,” she said.
These days, times are good — not as good as in the 1990s and early 2000s when gaming was expanding across the country, but the recession is over.
Simmons Nicholson has worked in human resources for casinos since the early 1990s, overseeing the hiring of workers for the openings of properties such as the Stratosphere, several resorts managed by Station Casinos and Harrah’s Entertainment. In 2000, she established The Simmons Group, a Las Vegas-based human resources consulting company. She specializes in talent management, organizational development, strategic planning, operations and training.
Her company has helped almost two dozen American Indian casinos with human resources management, and is working with Best Sunshine International to staff a hotel-casino in Saipan, a U.S. commonwealth in the Northern Mariana Islands.
Simmons Nicholson also was the director of volunteer operations at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and has advised several companies outside of gaming.
As gaming expanded across the U.S., Simmons Nicholson said casino employees found opportunities in emerging markets where their expertise was needed. A dealer in Las Vegas, for example, could become a supervisor in another jurisdiction.
“There was always opportunity if someone was willing to relocate,” she said. “Casinos wanted to bring in experienced people from different jurisdictions to help educate and train the local population.”
Question: Were casino industry human resources departments hurt by the recession?
Answer: People were laying off HR and training people, but the companies still needed that function. We stepped in the filled and the gaps. About two years ago, people started recognizing they may have cut too deeply. We’ve helped them recover as well, advising as they rebuild their HR teams. Human resources are skills that are transferable to any industry. It was a matter of helping identify talent.
Question: What trends are you seeing today in hiring for the gaming industry?
Answer: There are two things impacting the world I live in. We’re seeing both a multigenerational and multicultural workforce. Multigenerational in how you engage millennials. That’s one of the big pieces were seeing from both a customer and employee front. The other big piece is managing different generations in a workplace.
Question: What are the challenges of hiring older workers who lost jobs during the recession?
Answer: Often when we’re consulting senior management, they’ll come to us about someone being overqualified. Our response is “would you rather hire an overqualified person for a year or two and see where it ends up, or an underqualified person and be uncertain of their skills?” You want somebody that can hit the ground running. There are a lot of people out there who are willing to take a step back now and see what it will mean going forward. I tell clients “don’t look at the title. Look at the skill-set and see if this person is the right fit for your culture. If you are building an organization and another (economic) hit happens, you want some with creative problem-solving skills.”
Question: Do gaming employees still have opportunities to advance by moving from one casino market to another?
Answer: In Saipan, the senior leadership is experienced in Atlantic city, Las Vegas and from Indian gaming. We’re bringing in experienced people from different jurisdictions to help educate and train the local population on what it means to have gaming in the community and on the island.
Question: What advice do you give companies looking to break into the Las Vegas gaming market?
Answer: They need to understand the uniqueness of Las Vegas. It’s not so much that you need employees who need to be educated on gaming, you need to make sure they are educated on operating in Las Vegas. A company wants to bring in people who know the market and understand what is happening in Las Vegas.