In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported there were 11 million job openings in the U.S. — but only 6 million unemployed workers.
The pandemic acted as a catalyst for thousands of employees to leave their positions and start a new journey. Like most industries, campus recreation also felt the impact of the tidal wave of staff arriving and leaving.
Michael Gallagher, the associate director of Athletics for Recreational Services and Facilities at Roger Williams University (RWU), said students previously were turned away from jobs within campus rec due to a lack of openings. However, he said it’s now a struggle to fill some positions.
“It has also been challenging to replace professional staff at a smaller school such as RWU,” said Gallagher. “I don’t feel this is an issue exclusive to campus recreation. I believe this is a national problem of people not wanting to take entry-level positions. Most want to jump right to the director level without putting in the work.”
In confronting this issue with recruitment and retainment strategies, Gallagher said they have tried to be more flexible with time in the office. While he said most positions require staff to be on campus often, working from home is well-received and is an effective retainment strategy with his staff.
Another way to retain employees is to ensure their onboarding process goes smoothly. To provide a stress-free start for new staff, Gallagher said his department has their own, specific onboarding program that’s ran by HR. It provides managers with tips for preparing new workers for specific time frames like their first day, first week, first 30 days and so on.
Each time frame has the exact materials HR will deliver throughout the process. The guide also has companion articles from outside sources detailing advice for managers in specific stages of onboarding.
Along with retaining staff, recruiting is just as important in combatting the labor shortage. One strategy Gallagher said they are using to improve recruitment is by focusing their marketing to appeal to diverse populations.
RWU Campus Rec has a unique system due to Recreation being part of their Athletic Department. Gallagher said this causes them to combine Recreational positions with head coaching roles. The setup has led to candidates being more interested and qualified for their coaching roles than the Recreation openings. “We all have faced challenges before. This is no different,” he said. “We need to continue to be creative and get the work done. This, in time, will pass.”
Elsewhere at Marquette University, John Sweeney, the director of Recreational Sports, said his department is fortunately “pretty darn stable.” However, he said staffing is an issue affecting other areas at the university.
EXTRA CREDIT: There is a resignation trend, and Katie White shares ideas to help keep your employees.
Marquette Campus Rec is also using working from home as a retainment strategy, and many staffers are having a positive reaction to the option.
“I think people got comfortable working remotely,” said Sweeney. “We have allowed each of the staff to work from home once a week. They have all really appreciated the extra day. Some have said they can actually get a little more work done, and they really plan around that.”
To manage staff who are working remotely, Sweeney said they all have access to a computer and phone to ensure they can communicate, respond to emails, attend Zoom meetings, etc. Everyone’s schedules are also planned out so no more than two staff will be out on any given day.
Sweeney added the recent addition of Fusion Rec Management Software has been another positive force for staff in making their jobs easier. They have been training with the program for the past few months and are now starting to see its benefits. “We can track how many people are using the facilities and how many people are coming in. It’s a much easier system to use,” he said. “Fusion is huge in record-keeping. It’s great to access to get quick data to support your programs.”
While his department hasn’t adopted drastic recruitment strategies yet, Sweeney has been in direct contact with other campus rec centers who are desperately looking for workers.
“There are people who are really stressed out,” said Sweeney. “A lot of schools are having to start from scratch. I’ve even seen some schools use something called a signing bonus when hiring. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Also, schools in the past used to require a master’s degree for some positions. Now they are sometimes asking for just a bachelor’s degree.”
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At Marquette, there were positions cut due to budget concerns. Sweeney noted that led to several staff members picking up extra responsibilities since the pandemic hit. As a result, they were compensated at a higher rate.
Paying workers who took on a larger workload during the pandemic could act as another retainment strategy. One trend Sweeney noticed throughout the industry is many people who left their positions did so for better-paying jobs. Depending on your department’s budget, increasing the salary of you best employees is an idea worth fighting for.
“A lot of these people probably didn’t look for many other jobs until these last few years,” said Sweeney. “On the student end, we have had really no issues. We have a pretty captive audience, and we hire about 300 students a year. We have no problem filling those positions — we are lucky.”
There isn’t one, true solution to combat the Great Resignation. But these strategies from Gallagher and Sweeney show with a little ingenuity and patience, this one can conquer this difficult time.
“People continue to wonder how the next semester is going to be,” said Sweeney. “It’s tough, and I know other directors are looking to restructure how they do things. People are just having to think differently to move forward.”