by Jamison Stoike

With more than 32,000 open positions within the U.S. spa industry—more than 28,000 of which are service providers alone—it’s critical that spas look outside the box to establish new recruiting pipelines. One of the more consistent and impactful ways to do so is to establish a strong, positive relationship with a local college or school.

Woodstock Inn & Resort, located in Woodstock, Vermont, has prioritized recruiting from its local school as a way to ensure a steady supply of new therapists for its booming spa. The spa, despite the premium reputation of the property, had previously struggled to find massage therapists. “There was no strategy to finding massage therapists,” says Michelle Adams Somerville, who oversees the spa at Woodstock Inn & Resort. “We used local Craigslist, job banks, our website, We realized that we needed a better way to reach people that were considering spa as a career.”

Step one of building a recruiting pipeline for Somerville was getting to know the local school’s director. Says Somerville, “it all started because one of our massage therapists taught at that school.” Through that connection, Somerville got to know the director, and she invited the director to visit the spa and receive a few treatments. From there, both Somerville and Lead Therapist Sara Smith began teaching courses at the school, getting them valuable one-on-one exposure to students. Combatting a bias against working in spa was paramount to the initial success of the program, according to Somerville: “Massage schools are very focused on private practice as being the only option once you get out of school.”

Currently, Somerville and Smith invite students to visit the spa as part of their classwork. “We have to get rid of the myth that spa is just a fluff and buff,” says Smith, adding that “the students come here and see how we’re set up, what products we use, and that’s what really gets the student to want to work here.”

Taking care of the business side of spa is a big selling point for the students, according to Somerville, who informs the students that working at a spa means one doesn’t have to supply their own linens, find their own guests or do their own accounting.

After two years of teaching and building trust, the director of the school consulted Somerville and Smith on\ how they might suggest tweaking the school’s curriculum. “They didn’t train them on hot stones, and they were taught to do a 60-minute massage, not a 50- minute massage,” notes Smith. The school adjusted its curriculum. Now, therapists hired from the school are essentially ‘plug-and-play’ when they start at the spa.

Somerville views becoming involved in the school’s internship program as the single biggest factor in the success of the recruiting pipeline. “I think the first thing a spa should do,” says Somerville, “is be part of the internship program. If we get an intern here, we train them. Our staff gets to know them. They learn our policies and procedures and protocols in advance.” Smith adds that they’ve had two interns every year since they became involved with the school, and they’ve hired every intern after they’ve graduated. Many of the therapists prefer to
work part-time and maintain a private practice on the side, which is encouraged by Woodstock Inn & Resort.

The last piece of the puzzle to establishing a recruiting pipeline from a local school is to participate in employer panels. If your local school has one, participate; if it doesn’t, suggest to the director that they have a panel once or twice a year. “They bring in people from different businesses, and we’re able to tell them the benefits of working for us,” says Smith. “After we sit on the panel, a lot of the students connect with us.” After graduation, Smith says that many of these students will “actually reach out to us directly” rather than having to be contacted by Woodstock Inn & Resort.

When it comes to establishing a pipeline with a local school, the numbers speak for themselves: one-third of the Woodstock Inn & Resort’s therapists are now from the school. The retention rate is a staggering 100 percent. Part of this, however, is because Woodstock allows therapists to work part-time or on an on-call basis—the spa has no full-time service providers.

How do you pitch working in a spa environment to millennials who thrive in the ‘gig economy?’ Somerville says that the key is to focus on the positives of working for a spa instead of the negatives of not working at a spa. “We stuck to what we offer,” she says, “and we kept going to our resort benefits. They get access to a fitness center and a golf course. They get complimentary meals when they’re here. We have a bigger team, and that’s an advantage because they can meet more therapists, connect with them and practice with them. We are confident that a strong workplace culture is the number one way to retain your staff.”