COVID compounds labor shortage facing facilities contractor


Photo by Abigail Ham

Facilities is experience staff and cleaning shortages this winter.

Amidst a tightened national labor market and the current surge in the pandemic, Calvin’s facilities contractor, National Management Resources Corporation, is facing an ongoing labor shortage in some departments which has forced them to outsource some tasks and leave others undone.

Like other U.S. employers whose hiring signs have stayed up since last fall, National faces a shortage of workers willing to apply, according to Earl Casto, Calvin’s facilities director from National. “Though National has increased wages since coming onboard, we still are experiencing staff shortages like so many companies during this pandemic,” Casto said. In addition to increased wages, National has also allowed more flexible hours, and new employees continue to be added each month. 

But it hasn’t been enough. According to Casto, the number of student workers in the department has also declined significantly, from 32 students last fall to an unknown number currently as they are still struggling to figure out how many student workers are still available. Casto declined to provide the current percentages of total staff capacity. “That number did not provide a full story,” he said. 

To help mitigate shortages of both full-time and student workers, National has outsourced a number of specific tasks to external contractors, such as window and carpet cleaning. A number of outside vendors have also been contracted in addressing maintenance work orders, which numbered 800 in August and are now down to around 100.

The grounds department, who are responsible for Calvin’s snow plowing operations, is operating at close to full capacity. Although only two workers, Robert Speelman and Scott Machiela, transitioned over last year, new employees with vehicle operation licenses have been hired. Ten student workers are also part of the snowplowing teams, supplementing machine operators by manual shoveling.  

The hiring shortage has left building services, on the other hand, understaffed, a situation compounded by an outbreak of the Omicron variant amongst staff. Casto said that at least five staff members were infected and are isolating as of Jan. 20. Building services staff are responsible for day-to-day cleaning operations such as vacuuming carpets and cleaning general surfaces in offices and classrooms — tasks which are now not being regularly attended to. While a staff member would have normally been assigned to one such cleaning task in a specific building, the current shortage of available staff members has made such regular assignments impossible, Casto said. 

Casto recommended that, for the time being, academic department staff instead direct areas needing regular cleaning to work orders to be dealt with case-by-case.