It takes days and sometimes weeks for new drivers to click with a Zamboni's sensitive steering and to learn the controls by feel. It can be intimidating, sitting 6 feet off the ice while controlling a multi-ton machine full of scalding water and wielding a sharp blade, while making sure its innards aren't clogged with snow.
But Chad Eischens, general manager of Edina's Braemar Arena, will take that time with new drivers. With 46 weekly Zamboni shifts to fill, the arena typically has been eight to 10 shifts short this winter. The labor shortage has hit the Zamboni market, too.
"We're willing to train; we always have been," Eischens said. "Especially now. Especially when you have a very specialized piece of equipment like a Zamboni."
In many jobs that use specialized equipment, whether Zambonis, customized manufacturing machines or software stacks, employers are taking on more responsibility for training employees as they struggle to hire.
"It does seem like firms are doing a little bit more internal training again," rather than expecting job applicants to arrive at work ready with the skills needed, said Colleen Flaherty Manchester, a professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.
The Braemar Arena is seeing fewer Zamboni drivers coming in from working other rinks, Eischens said. So of necessity, the arena is hiring people who have never driven a Zamboni and training them in the icy art.
"People get intimidated the first couple times," said Hunter Sieve, Braemar's maintenance coordinator who has lately found himself driving the Zamboni more often.
It took time to learn how to do it, he said, so he tries to extend the same patience to Zamboni initiates, even if it means slowing down at first.
"It's like anything else; it takes repetition," Sieve said.
Jay Helget, who drove the Zamboni at Braemar until he got a job last year as an accountant for the city of Edina, said he had assumed people needed some kind of special license to resurface ice. But all it took was a little training, he said.
Helget had some experience working with big machines after summers with a highway department, so the Zamboni's size and power didn't scare him. After watching a few safety videos, he got used to the controls and mastered the patterns that Zamboni drivers use to reach every inch of ice.
"Once I was comfortable, they put me on shifts, and away I went," Helget said.
One of the most high-pressure aspects of the job is also the most fun, he said — driving in front of an audience of youth hockey players. They watch as the Zamboni makes its sweeping turns, begging the driver to honk the horn.
"When they're waiting to get on the ice, you're the most interesting thing to them," Helget said. "You're like a celebrity. Everyone watches you do your job."