Josie Carter, a senior psychology major, did most of the work for her internship at the University of Miami Dean’s Office of Students in person last semester. Her class schedule was not too demanding and she enjoyed interacting with her colleagues beyond a screen.
This semester is a different story.
“[Between] the way my classes line up and my other work schedules, I can’t come into the office as much as I’d like,” Carter said. “And so a lot of the work is remote, and I have meetings virtually.”
When Carter first arrived in Miami, the idea of going to school or working online never occurred to her.
“If you asked me as a freshman like, ‘Oh, do you expect to graduate and have a job or go to grad school online?’ No, like it sucks,” Carter said. “I think it’s pretty unanimous.”
But two years after the start of the pandemic, it is a reality.
COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the expectations of employers and employees regarding the day-to-day work experience. Coupled with the “big resignation,” many Miami departments are burnt out and struggling to fill in-person positions.
Whether you are looking for hybrid or fully remote jobs, or choose to leave the labor market altogether, it is now a labor market.
A shallow pool of candidates
Kimberly Moore, dean of students, has not had an administrative assistant since December. In the newly tightened job market, a replacement has been hard to find.
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It’s not just Moore’s department. Eight student life divisions have at least one vacancy, which puts additional pressure on remaining staff.
“It won’t really impact or change the way [students] live Miami at this point,” Moore said. “But it has an impact on the staff who are here… Having to cover and do more than expected is difficult. You can do it temporarily, but you can’t do it long term.
Shallow candidate pools also impacted Jaime Hunt, director of marketing and communications, with seven vacancies in her department.
The social media department, in particular, was hit hard.
“We have three people working in social media,” Hunt said. “But two of those positions are vacant and the person in that third position is on maternity leave.”
Hunt’s role in the office now is to make sure that burnout and absences, especially within the social media team, don’t overwhelm the remaining employees. Many projects have been put on hold to ensure that essential functions are carried out.
“There are definitely people out there working and doing things beyond their usual workload,” Hunt said. “But we’ve tried to be very careful not to alienate people by leaving other people’s work to them, because it’s not going to be productive.”
David Seidl, vice president of information technology, said the information technology (IT) team had 15 vacancies out of 129 positions.
As of June 2021, 13 of Seidl’s employees have taken early retirement, moved on to other employers, or changed departments while remaining in Miami. While early-career developers often change jobs, Seidl said the holes they leave are getting harder and harder to fill.
“We see a quarter or a half [the number of applicants] that we would have seen before [the pandemic]”, Seidl said. “…We are seeing a decline, but we are still able to hire good people.”
Hybrid working hours
Prior to 2020, most employees did their jobs in person. Since IT jobs rely heavily on screens, the shift to remote work early in the pandemic was easier for Seidl and his team than some departments on campus.
However, returning to the person proved more difficult. Seidl said many employees don’t want to face long commutes to sit in front of a screen on campus rather than at home.
Today, up to 70% of IT staff show up for work virtually on any given day.
“At this point, through the pandemic and everyone going home, we’ve now come to a point where it’s basically a hiring necessity [to offer remote work]”, Seidl said.
However, one sector of IT employees is not allowed to work remotely: student interns.
Senior Data Analytics and Statistics Specialist Hunter Fitch has been working as a Data Visualization Intern since September 2020. The role was remote while most Miami classes were online, but he had to report in person every week this year. Some full-time staff, meanwhile, have the option to stay remote.
Although Fitch isn’t afraid to work in person, he said there are colleagues he works with who he has never met.
“It’s kind of weird why they haven’t allowed students to work remotely when full-time employees can,” Fitch said. “[But] these people have to travel, and it saves them a lot of time and money by working remotely. »
At King Library, many of the staff have moved to flexible working hours to continue to attract and retain good talent.
Having two and a half hours less commuting a week has given Strategic Communications Coordinator Nick Kneer much-needed time in his home life.
“If I had a big delivery or needed a repairman, I would have had to take the whole day off,” Kneer said. “Now if I just need to sign for a package, I’ll do it while working remotely.”
Applications such as Google Suite and Zoom allow King flexible scheduling without sacrificing efficiency and service.
“We want to make sure that everything we do is going to improve the service that we are able to provide to students, faculty and staff,” Kneer said.
In communications, Hunt said many candidates expect fully remote work, an option she cannot offer.
“We are at the forefront [regarding remote policies]but we still find that people think [that] the moment we’re convinced of them as candidates, we’ll be ready to change that,” Hunt said. “But we are not capable of it.”
Working entirely remotely for many department employees would sacrifice the authenticity of his team’s work, Hunt said.
“University communications and marketing are responsible for telling the Miami story, and that’s hard to do if you’re never on campus and never feel the campus vibe or interact with our students. “, said Hunt. “We are not an office for students, but you still have to talk to students to really understand what we have here.”
Workers left on campus
For service departments like catering and residence life, offering staff members remote work options is nearly impossible.
Vicka Bell-Robinson, director of Residence Life, said her staff needed to be available in person to connect with students.
“We don’t spend a lot of time working from home or working remotely,” Bell-Robinson said. “Because all the students are here, residence life should be here.”
While the Office of Residence Life (ORL) center offices are fully staffed, a shortage of resident assistants (RAs) this year has resulted in a higher ratio of residents per RA.
ENT started the year with 11 vacancies out of 250, but the number of vacancies increased throughout the year. Although it’s recruiting more aggressively, Bell-Robinson said ENT isn’t looking to hire only “hot bodies.”
“[The student] experience matters, and we want to make sure we bring the best group to life in Residence,” Bell-Robinson said. “It could mean we have vacancies for a little while, but we’re going to make that decision rather than hire someone because we need someone.”
Other frontline positions in Miami, from physical facilities to dining halls, have remained in person out of necessity. When employees chose not to return last fall when most students returned to campus, the remaining workers were hit hard.
Even canteens that are well staffed could face shortages in the future.
Deanna Hay, a second-year employee at Western Dining Hall, said the number of workers on each shift at Western seemed excessive, with too little work for too many people.
From conversations with co-workers, however, Hay knows that some full-time workers plan to leave soon. She said restaurants may have to rely more on part-time students in the future to manage potential staff shortages.
“They rely heavily on full-time workers and train them more extensively,” Hay said. “As part-time workers… if they relied on students more and gave them more responsibility, that would sort of solve the problem of not having full-time staff.”
Liz Short, a senior psychology major, began working at Emporium in the fall of 2019. After being sent home in the spring of 2020, the following fall semester came with a depleted staff.
“There were so many open shifts, but we managed to make it work,” Short said. “Usually someone from another market would come in or a full-time employee would come in and cover our shifts for us.”
Full-time employees came from other markets and leadership positions, often on as little as 15 minutes notice. But while supply chain issues and labor shortages impacted dining halls last semester, Short said Emporium managed student demand this spring.
“I’ve seen long lines, but they usually don’t last long,” Short said. “It’s like five minutes tops… It was especially at the start of the semester with the longer lines because we had a lot of new people.”
While some student employees have experienced relief, the Miami administration is still feeling residual effects and struggling to find employees.
“I have a whiteboard on my wall,” Hunt said, “and the very first on my list is ‘hiring’ in all caps.”