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Some USF building management’s attempt to mitigate custodial understaffing

The Marshall Student Center is currently hiring to fill custodial staff vacancies to relieve current staff from working double shifts and overtime. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

Numerous amenities at the university, such as Housing Services and Building Services, have faced custodial understaffing issues brought on by a complicated job market and the effects of the pandemic.

The concerns of understaffing have been slowly resolving in areas such as Housing Services and Building Services, but the Marshall Student Center (MSC) has continued to struggle in finding new permanent applicants to solve the issue, according to Associate Director for Operations Dave Timmann.

Building Services provides custodial services to 83 Education and General (E&G) buildings on the Tampa campus, according to the Building Services site

Currently, Building Services has the funds for 119 staff positions, but Associate Director of Communications Aaron Nichols said only 85-95 are filled on any given day. Building Services is actively trying to fill the remaining 24-34 positions.

“Building Services staff levels have been impacted by both budget reductions and position vacancies,” Nichols said. “Recent budget reductions [brought down] Building Services’ staff levels by 10 positions.”

The MSC has its own custodial team, which is currently made up of 12 staff members, according to Director of the MSC Matthew Marshall. The staff usually has 20 people, so many must work double shifts in order to make up for the staff shortage, he said.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to get us back to what was normal. The only thing that has been beneficial for us is that we are not as busy as what we would be during a normal non-COVID year,” Marshall said. 

“With the numbers that we have for people coming in here daily, for meetings, organizations and food, there still is a significant amount of traffic and it’s very hard for our staff to stay on top.”

Housing also has a deficit in its custodians, seeing a 20% decrease from last semester, according to Assistant Vice President of Housing and Residential Education Ana Hernandez. Hernandez couldn’t provide the number of staff from the fall or spring semester by the time of publication.

After adopting new application incentives last semester, Housing Services has recently seen an increase in applications for residential custodian positions. Temporary staff may be necessary until a sufficient number of permanent staff have completed the application process, Hernandez said.

The decrease in Housing custodial staff first began in late 2019 and has been attributed to changes in the job market and difficulties associated with COVID-19. With the return to in-person learning, the custodians have been stretched thin to accommodate the USF community.  

The MSC has also seen a decrease in staff, due in part to some members retiring or finding other jobs. At the start of the pandemic, the MSC went into a hiring freeze, so when staff left for another job, Marshall said he couldn’t refill the vacant positions.

He said the MSC had opened application periods since the fall semester for custodial staff, and in the most recent period there were only 10 applicants. Last semester, Timmann offered positions to four people, but only one accepted.

The statewide change to the minimum wage introduced another challenge. The increase to $15 an hour by 2026 in Florida has made it difficult for Building Services to compete with private industries who have already increased their hourly wage, according to Nichols. 

Custodial workers in Building Services recently received an hourly wage increase to $11.75 and senior custodial workers are being paid $14.14 an hour, he said.

In November 2021, the hourly wage for a residential custodian position was raised from $12 to $15 in order to attract new applicants, according to Hernandez.  

The MSC, however, is unable to offer $15 an hour to its custodians, Marshall said, making it difficult to compete with local businesses who have increased their hourly wage. 

“We don’t have that ability to pay at that level,” Marshall said. “We were able to get an increase and there are increases that are taking place at different rates across campus. But still, we aren’t at that $15 an hour rate.”

Custodial staff in the MSC are currently receiving $12.97 an hour, which was recently raised about a month ago from $10.97, Timmann said.

The job market has created difficulties in finding and hiring new staff members, Hernandez said, but the number of applicants Housing Services has seen with the beginning of the new semester is promising.

Housing Services is currently in the final phases of hiring around 10 new applicants, which will play a crucial role in reaching an adequate amount of staff necessary to care for the number of students currently on campus.  

To fill this gap until a sufficient number of permanent staff have completed the hiring process, temporary staff may be hired.  

“We’re hoping that the combination of being able to process and bring on board the permanent staff, as well as supplement with some of the temporary staff, that we will be able to get back up to normal operations as quickly as possible,” Hernandez said.

The temporary staff would fill the custodial positions until an adequate amount of permanent staff has been hired and trained, according to Hernandez.  

“My hope is that we’ll be able to resolve the issues and have full-force USF employees in the next 30 to 60 days,” she said. “If we can do it sooner, that would be the best case scenario all around.”

To make up for the unfilled positions in Building Services, the department has also been contracting custodial labor through City Wide Facilities Solutions on a monthly basis. This is funded from the salary lapse created from the vacancies. 

“Building Services can modify the amount of contracted labor up or down at any time,” Nichols said. “The number of contracted personnel scales in accordance with the number of filled staff positions to help mitigate, or offset, the difference.”

As Building Services fills its staff vacancies, the amount of contracted labor will decrease, he said. From the perspective of the USF community, staffing levels haven’t made a noticeable impact on the service the department provides, according to Nichols.

The MSC will not be looking at third-party custodial labor contracting companies to temporarily fill vacancies, but Marshall said he thinks the team will be fully staffed again by Spring Break.

“The one thing that we can do is try to work with them the best that we can … and to create an environment that is one that is conducive for people to have an enjoyable experience in their employment,” Marshall said.