UAB Campus Dining is not immune to the labor shortages plaguing the economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With their biggest issues being a lack of applicants and staff retention, the dining team is employing tactics such as offering incentives and increasing wages to expand their number of applicants.
One of the main reasons for the staffing issues is that several people are hesitant to reenter the workforce after the global pandemic. There is also the issue of former dining employees finding other avenues of income during quarantine and deciding not to return to their original place of work.
“If you look at the pandemic and how it has affected certain business segments, one of them being the hospitality sector — restaurants, hotel, travel and tourism — it was one of the largest groups affected by unemployment. Being a component of that, we’ve really had to build the program back from the ground up,” says Brian Bowser, district manager for UAB Campus Dining.
This in turn results in a scarce number of applications that hiring managers for Campus Dining can pull from. In some instances, there are applicants who never show up for interviews or, when they get hired, never show up for their first day of work, causing the retention rate of new employees to be low.
Providing incentives to existing employees and future applicants as well as increasing wages for dining employees across campus are some ways the hiring team is combating their staffing issues.
“We offer, of course, free meals on their work shift; we pay for their food handlers’ card, which anyone that works in a food establishment in Jefferson County must have,” said Richard Ellison, human resources manager for UAB Campus Dining. “We offer free slip-resistant shoes, again, as a requirement of the job, where we used to have them pay for them. We did surveys as a company and looked at rates in the area for what others are paying and feel that we are competitive for the jobs we hire for.”
Among these incentives, there are also referral bonuses given to dining staff and additional meal plan options given to students who are Campus Dining employees.
However, there is only so much incentivizing that can be done. The challenge to find individuals who want to work for Campus Dining remains.
“We have not stopped hiring; we have not stopped searching. We are using a multitude of different recruiting agencies and firms and online applications and portals,” said Bowser. “We’ve still got over a hundred positions still left to fill and we certainly want to get back to our pre-pandemic levels. That’s our active goal.”
The support the dining staff is receiving from students on campus makes things a little easier.
According to Angela Lee, president of the Undergraduate Student Government Association, students have been extremely understanding towards UAB’s campus dining staff. On Oct. 29, the USGA delivered handwritten cards, “USGA loves our staff” buttons and roses to staff members that were present.
“I believed it was essential that USGA stepped in to recognize our dining staff who choose to serve students despite understaffed locations and extended work hours,” said Lee. “We owe our dining staff as much appreciation and recognition for allowing food service operations to function smoothly and efficiently.”