By Marissa Lundeen and Lauren Woolley
Barred by a table of “we’re hiring” flyers, cordoned off until further notice, Taco Bell in the Cougareat is just one victim of BYU’s underemployment problem.
For Cougareat patrons this week, BYU’s staffing problems are more than apparent. Long lines and wait times, cancelled orders and premature closing of businesses have been common occurrences since campus returned to full student capacity this semester.
Businesses such as the Cougar Cafe have been forced to open much later in the day, while other establishments like Taco Bell have been temporarily closed.
Makenzie Minaker, a BYU freshman from Canada, saw a Jamba Juice employee close the Wilkinson Center store early on Wednesday. “They closed off mobile ordering because there were too many orders,” Minaker said.
Mobile ordering, introduced over a year ago to accommodate social distancing and ease of ordering, has now become somewhat defunct as a result of staffing issues, according to BYU Dining Services Managing Director Dean Wright. He highlighted the challenges of the staffing problem.
“The greatest challenge is we only have 49 percent of the students hired that we need to operate our businesses. We are doing everything we can to get our kiosk and mobile ordering up as soon as possible,” Wright said.
The Cougareat isn’t the only area of campus that has been negatively affected by the changing trends in campus employment. George Engelhardt, BYU Grounds supervisor at Helaman Halls, has experienced these changes over the past few years.
“Summertime I run anywhere from 12 to 14 students,” Engelhardt said. Because of multiple campus jobs shutting down during the pandemic in 2020, and Grounds remaining open, Engelhardt had 22 students working on his crew. However, that soon changed.
“This summer we had seven. We can’t take care of the details. As soon as COVID-19 was over they went back to doing stuff indoors because they were making $2 more an hour,” he said.
Ex-BYU Grounds employee and current student, Colten Swenson, left his campus job for this very reason. Swenson said he chose off-campus employment because of “much better pay, and (it) looks a lot better on my resume than a campus job does.”
Though some students resort to off-campus jobs to build their resume, BYU student Emmalee Ferguson from Wisconsin said she chooses on-campus employment for the same reason.
“(I work) partly to earn extra money while I’m in school and also to gain experience so I can put it on a resume,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson is currently employed in the Bachelor of General Studies Office, which she says is also suffering from a staffing shortage.
As students grapple with full class loads and busy social agendas, on-campus jobs offer unique consideration to student’s schedules and often allow flexibility that off-campus jobs simply cannot grant, Swenson said. Though he now chooses to work off campus, he recognizes the benefits of on-campus employment.
Though some may think campus jobs are subpar, there are actually many perks, pay raise opportunities and transferable skills that can improve student resumes for post-college careers, students like Ferguson say. A 2018 Georgetown University report on student employment found that close to 70% of college students work while in school.
Abraham Carrasco, a custodial supervisor in the Wilkinson Center, believes the flexibility that on-campus jobs provide is the magic ingredient in drawing people to the campus workforce.
“Sometimes the schedule is a challenge that other departments have (when hiring students). We try to be flexible with every student. The more flexible we are, the more willing students are to stay here and work. Flexibility is key,” Carrasco said.
To accommodate BYU’s underemployment issue, departments such as BYU Grounds are increasing starting wages for all employees, from $10 an hour to $12 an hour. Other incentives are also being advertised on hiring flyers in the Cougareat such as food vouchers and more flexible work hours.