Working overtime

Nationwide staff shortages continue to affect campus

Vy Khanh Vu, Staff writer

Staff shortages on-campus cause long lines at lunch time. (Gabrialla Cockerell)

The pandemic continues to pose challenges in the workforce, with staff shortages across the nation. Employers in the United States face a record-high number of job openings.

According to CNBC, staff shortages have become a global concern due to the complex impact of the pandemic.

“The problem is not just a U.S. one, with many countries around the world experiencing a shortage of workers. It matters because it’s exacerbating supply chain disruptions around the globe, with key industries struggling to regain momentum due to a lack of workers or raw materials,” said their website.

At Seattle Pacific University, the staff shortage concerns campus managers. Dave Church, Assistant Vice President for Facility Management, shared that his department now has at least five vacant positions.

“We have had a lot of turnovers – some due to retirements, some due to COVID policies, a couple due to career transitions,” Church said.

The food service industry has been hit particularly hard by understaffing. SPU Chef Laura Gabriel is concerned for the future of food service laborers due to the abrupt change of the workforce. 

“On any given day, if somebody calls out sick and we’re already short-staffed to begin with, you know people are doing their best to try and cover the persons missing,” Gabriel said.

She also described her concerns about the shortages hurting the team. 

“Within a shift, it can become very frustrating. Sometimes, they would feel like we’re putting too much work on them because they don’t realize that we’re short-staffed, to begin with,” Gabriel said. “They’re used to working with a full staff team, so sometimes they can be upset because they feel like, ‘I’m just being worked to death and being asked to do so much with so little support.’’’

Gabriel explained that the pandemic’s disruption is a definite acceleration of being understaffed. 

“I currently have 11 job openings available, from dishwasher to cook, etc. We are severely short staffed,” Gabriel said. “From my experience with this, not many people in the workforce are looking for a job, or not looking to come back into the service industry or culinary buildings. People are reevaluating [their job], and they decided to work from home because of COVID or wanted to go back to school. We’ve lost a lot of people in the workforce.”

Sandy Chinn, a senior retail supervisor at SPU, oversees almost all the food shops on the campus. Chinn shares Chef Gabriel’s concerns for understaffing.

“We do have a shortage of staff. We’ve had a hard time getting full-time employees, and also we have a hard time getting students that have the availability where we have open, so we definitely have staffing issues,” Chinn stated.

According to Chinn, some campus establishments also have issues with supply chains.

“I don’t have as much of a supply problem with Einstein’s. The C-Store, we’ve had a lot of supply chain problems, but with Einstein’s, we’ve had a couple, but it’s nothing significant,” Chinn said. Chinn indicated that only bagels, cream cheese and some items need to be sourced from Einstein’s, while others come from a local supplier.

“Some of the other items we can source from other places and [Einstein’s company] has given us permission to do that If we can’t find some of the other items,” Chinn explained. “We haven’t really had nearly the same problem with Einstein’s or Subway as we have with either the C-Store or upstairs [at Gwinn],” 

Chinn mentioned that Subway’s ideal hours would be 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. With in-person classes scheduled in the evening, this schedule may add extra food options for students. But with a smaller staff, Subway has more limited hours. Chinn also expected Subway to open on the weekends, but staff shortages render that impossible.

This challenge has spread across campus and is not limited to dining services at SPU. The SPU bookstore had to close for one whole day because no staff were available to work, and in the email from the bookstore, they explained the reason for book-fulfillment delays.

​​”The bookstore is currently experiencing a backup of orders due to some technical difficulties that occurred in the order system before the quarter began. While the technical problems have been fixed and they are working to fulfill orders as quickly as possible, there are still delays,” said the email from the Office of University Services and SPU Bookstore.

In the Computer and Information Systems office, several positions also remain open. Some positions require more knowledge and experience challenges finding more staff. 

Nathan Judd, student staff and lead analyst at CIS, shared some of the department’s current struggles.

“Honestly, I would just say that having the amount of staff that we do now, it’s like we’re stretched a little bit thin. But we are still able to do our job almost to the capacity that we should,” Judd said, “So what I mean by that is we’re still able to fix classroom issues, we’re still able to do everything. It is just that we could be getting more done and staying ahead and being able to innovate the SPU campus if there were more staff, probably.”

During this challenging time, Chef Gabriel appreciates her team’s cooperation and support for working continuously to serve the students in the dining hall. 

“A lot of the people that are here have been here for a long time, and they enjoy what they’re doing. Those are the people that really support us, and we’re very grateful for them,” Gabriel said.