By Cecilia Cress
According to a Sept. 30 email from Assistant Director of Dining Services Kayla Young, Washington College is experiencing a labor shortage within the Dining Hall and Buildings & Grounds services.
This labor shortage is currently affecting the entire country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The College has not been exempt from the struggles that many employers have had to fill open positions this summer,” Vice President for Planning and Policy and Chief of Staff Victor Sensenig said. “These struggles became especially pronounced after businesses started restaffing in earnest last spring. Food service and retail having been particularly affected.”
Dining Hall operations have made significant changes this semester with Martha’s Kitchen no longer being opening on Sundays, while Create has not had enough employees available to open at all.
“We would usually have 20 kids for catering support,” Director of Dining Services Prince Johnson said. “This year we might have two, so it’s a really different year.”
The College not having enough employees puts a strain on the people that are working and the services they are able to provide, according to Interim Director of Facilities Lawrence Blake.
“It affects the timeliness of our work, so we aren’t able to do things as quickly as we would if we had full staffing,” Blake said. “It just takes longer to respond to work orders and puts more pressure on the people we do have.”
WC Buildings & Grounds services are trying to fill several positions within their facilities including maintenance tech and general mechanic positions.
According to Blake, the College is trying to reach a wider net of potential employees by using the software application ClearCompany, which directs potential applicants from the employment network Indeed.com to WC employment openings.
According to Blake, he believes the situation has improved, as they hired two new groundskeepers so far this year, which is twice as many as they had all summer.
Dining Hall services are also experiencing a similar problem, with employees working harder to cover positions that have yet to be filled.
“The number of open positions as certainly put a strain on employees and required managers to prioritize certain work,” Sensenig said. “But high-quality dining experiences are one of those top priorities, and we are proud of how the team has stepped up and actually added options like the new Rooted station.”
According to Johnson, WC has been reaching out to temporary labor agencies to try to fill in some of the open positions in dining employment.
“I’ve spoken with Human Resources, they’re doing their best to try to find some temp labor for us. The temp labor pool is very, very shallow, there’s just nothing out there,” Johnson said. “The managers and the hourly associates here are working a lot of hours to make sure that we can do as much as we can to make sure the student experience is what [students] expect.”
Johnson said that while this labor shortage is affecting Dining Services, there is a great appreciation from all staff for the current employees, as they may have had to work longer hours than expected this semester.
“The employees that we have here are doing a phenomenal job,” Johnson said. “Most of them are working six days a week because we do have holes that we’re trying to fill, and I’m really thankful for them.”
According to Johnson, a main goal for this semester is to expand Martha’s Kitchen’s operational hours similar to that in previous years. The current hours are Monday to Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
“One of our main focuses right now is trying to get a couple of people in to get Martha’s back open on Sunday. I know that’s really important to the students,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he encourages any and all students to apply for a Dining Services job through the service JobX, which can be found on the Career Center website, even if they are only available to work a couple of hours a week.
“If any students out there have some cooking experience, sandwich experience, or pizza experience…anything like that, come on in. We’ll take you,” Johnson said.
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