Ethan Bachand ‘22
Despite operations appearing normal on the surface, Dining Services is currently suffering from drastically low staff numbers. The department has been forced to close locations as well as alter operating hours of open locations due to a significant drop in both career staff and student workers. As a result, the staff and students who do remain work tirelessly to keep dining locations at functional levels.
Across the board, almost every position has seen a decrease in the sheer volume of workers available. There are currently over 20 career staff positions open between all major dining operations on campus. In addition, student workers are scarce. As it currently stands, there are only 42 captains between Kimball Dining Hall and the Hogan locations to go along with 140 student workers.
Although those numbers may appear large, they are shadowed by the typical participation at each position. According to Assistant Director of Employment and Training Margaret Rollo, who has spent over three decades at the College of the Holy Cross, each of the student positions face a sizeable gap. In an interview with The Spire, she said, “As far as comparison, I would say that Kimball is looking at a huge gap of around fifty to sixty students more. Part of that is because we’ve had less of an interest in students returning to work that have worked with us before. Hogan usually has upwards of a hundred students that work within those locations.”
The reason for such low numbers, as Mrs. Rollo puts it, seems to stem from the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think that the pandemic has had an effect on a lot of how people are reorganizing their lives, prioritizing their lives,” she said. “I’ve seen time and time again that a lot of the first-year students will be apprehensive about wanting to work because they have this picture that being able to manage their class schedule and the activities that they’d like to get into is that they’re not going to have time for work.”
Yet this year, that apprehension has seemed larger than usual. Mrs. Rollo recalled that even during the hiring phase, students seemed to back away from the opportunity. She stated, “You know, I was really disappointed … we have an annual employment meeting. We had 180 students reply that they were interested and that they would attend our meeting, and we had 80 students not attend. That’s significant, and I’ve never seen such a huge drop in interest. I don’t really know why there was such a significant drop in number of students who didn’t attend. It’s extremely discouraging … I think it’s that, ‘How do I prioritize my time? Will I have time?’ I’m kind of at a lost, that again, people lives have changed a lot…”
As previously mentioned, students aren’t the only ones that are missing from the kitchen in Kimball and other locations. Career staff, who are the professionals that drive most of the dining operations, are in short supply. Martin Dudek, Interim Director of Dining Service, spoke on the issue of staff leaving. In an email correspondence with The Spire, he wrote, “We were short staffed before COVID, and we have had some staff that have made the choice to find non people facing jobs because of covid concerns. There also seems to be a shift in what people are willing to work. Dining is a 7 day a week operation. In my opinion people do not want to work nights, weekends, and holidays like they did before covid. They are finding other work that fits into their life.”
Mrs. Rollo recognized this issue as well, while noting that pay differential is playing an important factor in the hiring process. As she said, “We currently don’t have wages or a salary that is competitive. That’s up to the College to make those decisions… We have great benefits, but people can now pick and choose where they work and what they want to do.” According to Mr. Dudek, an administration backed plan is currently in the process of approval to address some of these concerns. When speaking about coordination between the administration and dining services, he said, “There’s a very open line of communication … Everybody understands the issue, and they’re going as fast as the College can go.”
Due to the drastic drop in staffing, multiple services have had to either be altered or closed entirely. As Mr. Dudek wrote, “… in Kimball we have had to close stations and adjust service styles. Crossroads, Cool Beans and the Lobby Shop have adjusted hours. We also needed to close Lower Kimball and Cafe Babel. We will open up locations as we get new staff.” Some of these decisions we last minute out of necessity, as Lower Kimball was closed just a week before students arrived on campus. Despite these adjustments, the remaining staff have had to work harder than usual. Mr. Dudek added, “We also have staff that are working 6 days a week and 10+ hours a day.”
Student workers are in a similar boat, as students have had to stay past the end of their shift in order to accommodate for the lack of workers. Mrs. Rollo noted this in her interview, saying, “Unfortunately, our captains who are on the dinner shift…. They haven’t been able to get out at 9:30. The captains and some of our student workers have been staying, sometimes as late as 10:30… The people have been working with us, our captains, our students, and our staff who have been with us all long, they’re really our heroes.”
Although Mr. Dudek is currently in the process of creating a hiring plan with Human resources and some new students have been hired, the gap in staffing remains. When asked how long the staff and students could keep up, Mr. Dudek was clear in his response: “Not long, however, we need to serve the students.” He would also go on in his response to say that the plan is to give staff as much rest as possible during breaks throughout the fall. He ended by saying, “Fingers crossed by the start of next semester we are fully staffed.”