DULUTH – Duluth's convention center and ice arena is experiencing the nationwide worker shortage in a very Minnesota way: It needs Zamboni drivers, lots of them.
Until recently, the work of resurfacing the ice at the Amsoil Arena, cleaning the facility and moving hockey nets fell to a full-time and a part-time employee at the home to University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldog hockey.
Now with the hockey season closing in, the facility needs eight Zamboni drivers to refresh the ice.
"On September 1, we get really busy," said Steve Rankila, internal operations director for the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (DECC), which operates the arena. "We run a full shift, especially when you start at 6 a.m."
If there is some good news, the facility last week needed 12 part-time drivers, but since has filled four slots.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused the driver shortage, Rankila said. With no events or revenue, the DECC furloughed or laid off 400 employees, and many, including the Zamboni drivers, found other work or went on to full-time work after college graduation.
UMD student Sebastian Sullivan has driven a Zamboni at the DECC for three years. It is not hard to drive, he said, but it takes some training and getting used to, especially being out in front of a crowd during a Division I hockey game.
"You don't want to get stuck and ruin the whole rink," Sullivan said.
The job is not all Zamboni-driving glamour and cheering and jeering fans. It involves locker room cleaning, scraping ice and general maintenance work. New hires will earn $14 an hour and receive training, Rankila said.
"It's a unique job," he said. "Not everyone can say they can run a Zamboni."