Southern Adventist University has been experiencing a labor shortage in Food Services for several years, but within the past year, the situation has worsened. There is a lack of student workers particularly in the cafeteria, according to director of Southern’s Food Services department Teddy Kyriakidis.
“We like to keep about 100 [workers], and right now we’re around 60,” Kyriakidis said. “Right now our biggest shortage is in the production, which are the cooks and salad prep.”
Kyriakidis said the cause of the shortage is due to multiple factors, including a decrease in enrollment.
According to Russell Orrison, associate vice president for Retail and Auxiliary Operations, enrollment decreased from 2,968 students in the fall 2017 semester to 2,770 students in the fall 2019 semester.
“The largest employer on campus has always been Food Services. So, naturally, they’re impacted the most,” said Orrison.
Sophomore nursing major Dysphan Lumbangaol worked as a dishwasher in the cafeteria last semester. Lumbangaol attributes the labor shortage to wages and work environment.
“It is actually kind of labor-intensive because you’re lifting a lot…and I personally think we should be paid a bit more,” Lumbangaol said. “[The pay] is already higher. But I mean, landscaping, for example, is $10 an hour because it is really hard work; but it’s an incentive to do it. There’s just not enough motivation to want to go through working in the cafe.”
The starting pay for dishwashers at the cafeteria is $8.25 an hour, according to Lumbangaol. The average salary of a dishwasher in the state of Tennessee is $10.77 an hour, according to Indeed.com.
“The reason why I quit was because [it is] a lot of work for really not that much money,” Lumbangaol said. “The work environment kind of sucks. It’s honestly so depressing being in there.”
Kyriakidis said, although an increase in pay did not seem to help with past labor shortages, the possibility of raising wages even further is currently being discussed with administration, along with the idea of bringing in outside labor.
“I think, also, our current generations aren’t either willing to or needing to work as much as other previous generations,” Kyriakidis said. “We’ve heard a lot of students say that their parents discourage them from working because they want them to focus on their studies.”
Anya Parker, a 17-year-old homeschooler, began working as a dishwasher at Southern’s cafeteria last summer when she learned that some of her friends worked there.
“I like to wash the dishes,” Parker said. “I have friends here, and that’s why I’m working. It’s more fun, but some people don’t work there because it’s tiring to wash the dishes for a long time.”
Kyriakidis said, “One of the challenges with working in the service industry is…it’s not appealing to some people. One of the biggest struggles employees have…is just showing up to work on time, being ready to work and being in the right mindset. Those are things that students can start to learn while they’re here on campus that will benefit them in their career no matter what career they go into.”
The shortage has affected all positions in the cafeteria, including cooks and supervisors, according to Lumbangaol.
“For every shift, there’s a shift supervisor, and they texted me and a lot of other friends who were just regular workers and asked us to become supervisors,” Lumbangaol said. “[The shortage] made me feel kind of obligated to take on another shift, or I would stay a bit longer because I knew there was no one after my shift to take over. Usually people are assigned to salad, people are assigned to main dishes. But then I would see people having to switch around because there weren’t enough people in one section.”
Lumbangaol says that improving the work environment of the cafeteria would help the labor shortage problem.
“There are jobs on campus that are really popular, like the library or office jobs, where there’s a nice work environment,” Lumbangaol said. “So if you want people to work at the cafe, make the cafe a place that people really want to work at. …Promote actual teamwork. Make it a community, and then I think that would help people want to work there.”