Fewer workers, longer lines: nationwide staffing shortage affects campus

Campus sees record lows in numbers of student workers.


Caleb Geer

This year, Simpson’s campus has witnessed record lows in student workers. Normally, the campus sees 30-40% student labor – this year, the level is below 10%.

by Riley Fletcher, Staff Reporter

Employers in the United States are desperate to fill jobs as there is a record-high number of job openings. The labor shortage is apparent at Simpson College as flyers advertising jobs at Pfeiffer Dining Hall, SubConnection, Tyler’s Grille and Millie’s Coffee Shop are posted around campus.

Long lines and extended waits plague food venues in Kent Campus Center as Sodexo Food Services struggles to fill open positions. Students like first-year Kyle Werner avoid the lines entirely.

“I typically don’t go to places in Kent because lines are too long,” Werner said. “I don’t want to risk being late to class.”

Julia Neer, a general manager at Sodexo, says there is a significantly low number of student workers in campus dining facilities compared to previous years.

“We’ve seen less students than we have ever seen. Normally, we have probably a good 30-40% student labor, and we aren’t even at 10%,” Neer said.

We’ve seen less students than we have ever seen. Normally, we have probably a good 30-40% student labor, and we aren’t even at 10%.

— Julia Neer

Neer says students who work for Sodexo are eligible for scholarship opportunities.

“We have a program for students in general,” Neer. “We have a scholarship program for them, so if they complete the semester with us, we usually give around $4,000 in scholarships away each year for students. That’s based on performance and hours that they worked and so forth.” 

As of Oct. 18, Sodexo has one hourly position posted on its job listings: Cook I. There are two positions posted for salaried jobs: Executive Chef 2 and Retail Manager 2. 

Aside from food service jobs, there are currently 12 separate listings for student workers – all of which are listed on ScConnect. 

The labor shortage has affected Indianola businesses as well.

Popular local Mexican restaurant Las Flores posted to Facebook on Oct. 2 that they would be closed until further notice due to a staff shortage. The business remained closed until Oct. 12. Other area restaurants, such as Taco Bell, adjusted hours because of staffing issues.

Some believe generous federal unemployment benefits have been keeping the unemployed from returning to work. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says that one in four recipients of unemployment aid was earning more in unemployment than they made working. 

Many believe the tight labor market has forced employers to address the need for a wage increase. A survey by One Fair Wage found that 76% of restaurant workers surveyed are considering leaving the industry because of low wages.

The minimum wage in Iowa is $7.25 an hour, the same rate as the federal minimum wage. The minimum wage in Iowa has remained the same since 2008 and has not been indexed for inflation. Iowa has the lowest minimum wage compared to its neighboring states. 

Sodexo does not have any wages posted on their website. Neer would not disclose the pay of workers, stating it can vary from person to person based on the job and the person’s experience.

Companies nationwide are offering incentives to come back to work, such as higher wages, offering bonuses to those who recruit their friends to work and other benefits such as free college. Places such as Chipotle, McDonald’s and Target have raised hourly wages to attract new workers.

Neer says Sodexo is also offering incentives for new and current workers, including increased wages.

“This year, we implemented a $50 bonus if you came back and then $250 if you complete the semester and the same thing if you refer somebody,” Neer said. “One of our gals that works for us, I think she has like three referrals, so by the end of it, that’s one thousand bucks in her back pocket.”

Sodexo’s website says that salaried and full-time hourly employees are eligible for a 401(k) retirement savings plan, tuition reimbursement, paid time off, LifeWorks, identity theft protection and employee discounts. However, eligibility can vary and may not be available to all employees.

National unemployment rates fell from 5.2% to 4.8% last month due to around 180,000 fewer people looking for work in September, which means they were not counted as unemployed. The Labor Department reported that 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August.

Parents, particularly women, have dropped out of the workforce; some are unable to find affordable childcare and instead opt to stay home with their children. Others think fear of COVID-19 has kept some from seeking out employment. No matter why people are hesitant to return to work, unemployment benefits expired for at least 6 million people last month.

Neer believes COVID-19 relief might have had an impact on the number of student workers on campus.

“I know there was some COVID relief that was coming in, so maybe because they’ve got income coming in, they don’t need the extra work. Between that and then, we also had applications coming in. If we get one application every month, we’re doing good, which is sad. We would normally get in several so we could pick and choose and bring in people with experience.”

Those who are interested in working in dining services can contact Julia Neer at [email protected] or call 515-371-7580.