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Low student on-campus employment creates workplace difficulties

 A man sits at a desk, typing on a computer.
Senior environmental science major Max Mertz works his job at the strength and cardio desk in the Health, Wellness, and Athletic Center Dec. 8. There are multiple open jobs in HWAC according to Traci Siriprathane, the assistant dean of students for student wellbeing and support. Photo courtesy of Keely Carolan. 
Image Description: An employee in the Health, Wellness, and Athletic Center does work on his computer while sitting at the strength and cardio desk. Students lifting weights in the background of the image.

At Westminster College, many on-campus job positions remain unfilled despite being halfway through the 2021-22 school year, according to President Beth Dobkin.

Utah has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S. (sitting at 2.2% as of October 2021), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, that does not necessarily mean Utah communities are unaffected by the nationwide labor shortage that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There are many open positions, and there are many departments on campus that would really love to fill those positions and haven’t been able to,” Dobkin said. 

Westminster’s Student Employment manager, Haley Maher, said these openings often correlate with what’s going on in the greater U.S. job market. 

“College campus employment typically reflects what is going on in the employment market as a whole,” Maher said. “The market has become more competitive and there are more employment options than ever.”

President Dobkin said wages could be part of the reason why fewer students are working on campus jobs. 

“I am concerned about student wages in general and if there’s a way we can increase those at all – hoping that that will make a difference,” Dobkin said. “I don’t know if part of the issue is students competing for on-campus versus off-campus job [wages].”

How Westminster is trying to help

“We are trying to turn more positions into internships where there are still development and leadership opportunities for students, so that the campus job becomes more than just another place of employment,” Dobkin said. “That it is something that has a deeper sense of connection and personal growth and professional growth for our students.”

Students who work on-campus are better equipped for academic success, according to President Dobkin. 

“We know students who take on campus employment tend to have higher completion rates, higher success rates, they just tend to do better in their academic work when they’ve got the on campus job,” Dobkin said. “So anything we can do to help promote that for students, I’m all ears.”

Dobkin said while she can’t make any promises regarding wage increases right now, it is something she thinks the college needs to reevaluate. 

Staffing in the Health, Wellness and Athletic Center

Traci Siriprathane, Westminster’s assistant dean of students for student wellbeing and support, said wages are a potential reason why fewer students are working on-campus jobs. 

“Being able to pay a competitive wage compared to what people are making off-campus is a challenge,” Siriprathane said. “Especially post-COVID, a lot of places [off campus] have increased their wages to be more competitive.”

Siriprathane, who manages the Health, Wellness, and Athletic Center employees, said  they have had difficulties finding enough employees to staff the building, particularly lifeguards for the pool. 

“I offered a special lifeguard class in September to try and get more people certified, and I ended up with only two people [signed up],” Siriprathane said. “But I went ahead and taught the class, because those two people were able to cover some of the shifts that we had open, so it was worth it to do so.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic limited the ability for most places to hold in-person events, so there is a likelihood that fewer incoming students are coming to campus already with their lifeguard certifications due to lack of classes, according to Siriprathane. 

“Possibly [also] because of the lower number of students on campus, there’s just not as many that are already lifeguard certified,” Siriprathane said. 

Taylor Baum, a senior philosophy major, said he is in his fourth year of working as a reception attendant in HWAC. While there is a slight difference in pay between reception attendants and lifeguards, to many students it may make more sense to work as a reception attendant, according to Baum.

“The only difference is that reception people have no responsibilities aside from checking people in,” Baum said. “We can study, we can read, we can get paid to just surf the internet. Whereas the lifeguards, they can’t do any of that. It just makes more sense, even though you’re getting less money, to work this job and get paid to do your homework essentially.”

Baum said while it’s hard on the employees to be understaffed, it also has a negative impact on members of the community who are trying to use HWAC – nobody can use the pool when there isn’t a lifeguard present. 

“I’m working at periods where maybe there’s no lifeguard, and I just have to say to people, ‘I’m sorry you came all this way, there’s literally nothing I can do,’” Baum said. 

ASW Vacancies

ASW has had multiple vacancies during Fall semester, according to ASW Events President and sophomore pre-med and neuroscience major Ashlee Szwedko. 

Szwedko said among the empty spots were multiple ASW Senate positions, as well as two event coordinator positions. 

“When it was just me and my senior events coordinator it was really difficult,” Szwedko said. “Just because we do have to keep that one event per week up, and that can get really overwhelming when we do want to provide quality events for the students.”

Szwedko said while there were many vacancies in ASW Events earlier on in the semester, the positions started filling up more in October. 

“I had lots of support from the board [and] I have a wonderful advisor who always helps,” Szwedko said. “So we did have support from other people, but it was difficult not having specific people for events to help out.”

COVID-19 is probably a factor into why fewer students are working on-campus, according to Szwedko.

“Since we don’t have a larger group of students [on-campus], not as many people [may] want to get involved, or not as many people are even able to get involved,” Szwedko said.  

Why students work on-campus

Taylor Baum, HWAC reception attendant and senior philosophy major, said working and attending classes on a small campus is convenient, and said he enjoys being able to do homework on the job. 

“I get to see people that I love and I care about, and it’s really great to see them going to the gym,” Baum said. “That’s just a good reminder that people do care about themselves, and that’s a great thing to see.”

On-campus employment can also be key to student success, according to President Dobkin. 

“When we look at retention and graduation rates of various student populations, on-campus employment was a pretty good predictor of a higher graduation rate,” Dobkin said. 

Working an on-campus job can provide opportunities for learning and greater involvement with campus, according to ASW Events President and sophomore pre-med and neuroscience major Ashlee Szwedko.

Szwedko said, “Getting involved this year was really exciting and being able to provide for the Westminster community is lots of fun.” 

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Keely Carolan is a junior communication major from Seattle, Washington. When she isn’t studying, you’ll probably find her climbing, coaching kids at a local climbing gym, or setting routes at the school’s climbing wall. Keely hopes to one day intertwine her passion for climbing and journalism into an enjoyable career.

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