Food service works to attract employees

By Ken Goze

NIU’s food service, faced with a continuing shortage of student employees, is considering a scholarship program and other measures in an effort to attract workers.

Food Service Director Robert Fredrickson said only about 75 percent of student positions are filled at this time. Decreasing employees during the past two years is consistent with the food service’s downward employment trend, he said.

“This is real disappointing. We had hoped the higher wage would help,” Frederickson said, referring to the 40-cents-an-hour pay increase beginning this year.

The shortage has already forced a reduction in service in some of the residence halls. Both Stevenson and Grant Towers Residence Halls have been forced to close one cafeteria during the weekend.

Fredrickson said several measures are being considered to reverse the shortage. One option is a scholarship program, which would allow students to pay a portion of their tuition by signing an agreement to work in the food service for a certain number of hours.

Similar scholarship programs have had some success at Iowa State University, and Fredrickson hopes it will work for NIU. However, Fredrickson said success of any recruiting efforts will depend on a wage increase to at least $4.25 an hour to compete with off-campus employers. If the program is approved, it will begin next fall, Fredrickson said.

Although other options, such as the use of disposable plates and silverware were considered, the idea was abandoned as a stopgap measure. “It (disposables) would be more expensive in the long run than the higher wages,” Fredrickson said.

The food service has also tried to increase employment by hiring non-student empoyees, but the effort has been only partially sucessful because of low wages and the need to commute, Fredrickson said.

Student Employment Coordinator Melody Amundsen said the worker shortage, while limited to food services, is due partly to current financial aid practices. Amundsen said students applying for financial aid are automatically given a guaranteed loan application. As a result, fewer students take work-study options and often over-extend themselves financially with loans.

“Half of these people don’t even realize they’ll have to pay this back someday,” Amundsen said. In an effort to educate students on the nature and terms of the loans, an interview process has been set up for loan applicants beginning next fall.

Amundsen said the interviews could help fill positions in areas such as food service and work-study positions. Work-study benefits NIU and students because the federal goverment pays 75 percent of the student employee’s wages. This arrangement allows smaller campus employers such as the chemistry and admissions departments to hire people they otherwise could not afford to pay, Amundsen said.