BYU student employee numbers return to pre-pandemic levels

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BYU student employment levels have returned to 2019 numbers after three years of decreased employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This graph shows approximate levels of BYU student employees in 2019, 2020 and 2023. Employment levels have recently returned to pre-COVID-19 numbers. (Graphic made in Canva by Annika Ohran)

The number of student employees dropped from about 15,100 in 2019 to about 11,000 in 2020, according to Marden Clark, BYU student employment manager. This includes employees working from home.

During the same time frame in 2023, Clark said numbers were back up to around 15,000 for the first time since 2019, although that has decreased slightly since students started leaving for the summer.

BYU employment trends are comparably higher than national trends as nationally, the number of people in the workforce has not returned to pre-pandemic levels. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the labor force participation rate is at 62.6%, down from 63.4% in February 2020, meaning that there would be 1.8 million more people in the U.S. labor force if participation were the same today as in February 2020.

Clark said student employment levels have improved for a variety of reasons, including demand for students to work on campus, BYU’s efforts to pay a fair wage equitable to off-campus opportunities and benefits to working on campus that make it desirable for students. According to Clark, those benefits include flexibility, convenience and being eligible for exemption from the FICA tax if they are U.S. citizens.

Emily Ells, a BYU senior, has two campus jobs and has worked at BYU on and off since 2016. Ells said she enjoys the perks of working on campus including free Sundays, flexible hours and good coworkers. Ells continued working on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic because it was the only nearby place she could work that fit with her class schedule. 

Cougareat employees help customers in a mostly empty Chick-fil-A line on Friday, March 20, 2020. Cougareat employees were among the thousands of BYU student employees affected by COVID-19-related closures on campus. (Preston Crawley)

Certain departments such as dining, grounds and physical facilities are always looking for student employees, especially during the summer, according to Clark. However, Clark said all departments seem to be doing well with hiring now, matching the university-wide trend. 

Dining Services was one area hit by labor shortages during the pandemic. According to Joe Tiapson, director of retail operations and marketing for BYU Dining Services, hiring was different at various points of the pandemic.

“In the beginning, everything shut down and, like almost all other industries, we shut down,” Tiapson said.

As businesses started opening back up after the initial onset of COVID-19, many employees were eager to get back to work, but as time went on, hiring enough people to get back to full operation was difficult, Tiapson said.

Student employees serve customers at the Cougareat on May 31. Student employment levels have recovered to what they were before the shutdowns and labor shortages that happened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Annika Ohran)

Ells, who worked at the Hinckley Center during the pandemic, recalled that at events, she was sometimes asked to help clean up so the Dining Services employees could take care of the food since there were not many student employees at the time.

Tiapson stated that before the pandemic there were about 2,000 students working for Dining Services, and student employment is getting close to that number again. 

“A few areas are hit and miss. For the most part, we are well staffed,” Tiapson said. 

According to Clark, things are not perfect and not all positions are filled, but departments have been able to bring people back in and things are better than they have been.

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