If hiring workers was an airplane flight, the pilot would have warned about a little bit of turbulence up ahead several months ago and the seat belt light would still be on. As the economy has rebounded this year from 2020's pandemic-driven slowdown, employers across the U.S. in a variety of workplaces have struggled to fill out their staffs.
Amy Mann, university human resources (UHR) associate director for talent acquisition, has been watching those labor market gyrations closely since she arrived at Iowa State in late August. She recently spoke with Inside about how the nationwide trend has played out at Iowa State and suggested some strategies for hiring managers to consider to counter those effects.
Impact on campus
Some of the most difficult positions to fill in recent months have been entry-level positions, such as food service workers, administrative assistants and custodians. Mann said the number of people applying for openings in those lines of work is noticeably lower than in recent years.
"I don't think we're in a crisis by any means. It's normal for applicant pools to ebb and flow with the economy," she said.
The flow of candidates improved as fall progressed, thanks to young children returning to school, COVID-19 case numbers falling and Iowa's extended unemployment benefits expiring, Mann said. But there's still a labor imbalance, with more jobs available than people who want to work in those positions, and a lot of uncertainty ahead.
"While I do think things are getting better in terms of people wanting to come into the marketplace, that supply and demand issue is going to take a while to overcome," she said. "The labor market remains unpredictable."
Why is it happening?
There are a variety of reasons potential job candidates have been harder to find lately, Mann said, including health and safety concerns, increased government support, early retirements, child care issues and rising wages for entry-level work. Recruitment and retention drove a Dec. 1 increase in the minimum wage for some of the university's lowest-paying jobs to at least $15 per hour.
But overall, Mann believes the biggest contributor to the reduction in applicants is people taking stock of their careers and considering what's important to them after experiencing difficult times during the pandemic.
"I think they are reassessing their priorities and asking, 'How am I going to be treated?'" she said. "'Is my employer flexible? Am I overworked? How much am I paid?'"
Think of what food service employees, for instance, went through in 2020 and 2021, Mann said. Widespread restaurant closures were often followed by start-and-stop reopenings, along with reduced business and a subsequent drop in hours and tips. It's logical that some people might be looking for a job that offers more stability, she said.
Give attention to retention
One way to make filling openings easier is to have fewer openings. Retention is more important than ever when hiring is a challenge, Mann said. Managers can work with their HR delivery team on developing retention strategies.
"That's where our focus needs to start shifting just as much as attracting new talent," she said.
That means emphasizing -- for both potential candidates and current employees -- quality of life benefits such as the WorkFlex program's flexibility and on-site child care, Mann said. A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is important, too.
How supervisors relate to their staff is a major factor in retention, Mann said. She recommends that managers get to know their employees on a personal level and empower them to make decisions, lead projects and voice opinions.
"To retain our staff, we've got to think about how we're treating them and developing them," she said.
Creating a path
Helping employees develop and grow is crucial to retention, Mann said. Employees need clear career progression opportunities.
"We have to create sustainable career tracks to help people see future growth for themselves," she said.
The revised classification-compensation system for professional and scientific staff implemented last year helps define a path forward for some employees, but supervisors need to discuss career goals and internal mobility with their employees. Managers who aren't comfortable having those discussions or giving honest feedback should pull in their HR delivery team to assist, Mann said.
Developing staff also is a key aspect of workforce planning. Unit and team leaders should be thinking ahead about cultivating a talent pipeline within their own staffs. Mentoring and development plans can help promising employees gain the needed skills, Mann said.
"Let them build to that next level," she said.
Planning for the future
Mann said though she expects at least some struggles in hiring to continue, Iowa State is well positioned for a tight labor market.
"We are an employer of choice here in Story County. We have a lot of opportunity to attract workers just based on what we do. But we still need to be proactive in how we attract talent and keep employees engaged," she said.
When managers have a vacancy, they should contact their HR delivery team to consult with their staff recruiting specialist, perhaps in a deeper way than in the past, Mann said. The staff recruiting specialist will help map out a timeline and discuss an advertising strategy. The best candidate may not know the opportunity exists.
Managers, in partnership with the recruiters, need to be ready to respond rapidly to applications, she said. Candidates can come and go quickly as they are contacted by other employers.
"The recruitment meeting with the staff recruitment specialist is critical. A post-and-pray mentality will not yield a successful search in this environment," she said.
With Faculty Senate supporting the decision to require students to achieve at least three of the four new learning outcomes to fulfil the undergraduate U.S. diversity requirement, plenty of work remains for the updates to roll out beginning in fall 2023.
Work will shift quickly to a permanent committee overseen by the academic affairs council. Last April, the senate approved the creation of the U.S. diversity course requirement committee, responsible for approving courses proposed to satisfy the requirement.
The committee is not yet formed but is expected to begin work during the spring semester, said Faculty Senate president Andrea Wheeler. Voting members will include a chair and a faculty member from each college. Requirements for the chair include having demonstrated expertise in fields associated with diversity in education. It's also recommended that all members of the committee have some expertise in diversity. Members are appointed for three-year terms renewable once.
Nonvoting committee members include the senior vice president for student affairs, associate vice president for student affairs and representatives from Student Government, Multicultural Student Leadership Council and Graduate and Professional Student Senate.
"The committee will lead the development of the processes for change and will establish a timeline for the update," Wheeler said. "The committee, by design, should have diversity in its makeup, so it includes more than just the instructor perspective."
An ad hoc committee chaired by Meghan Gillette, human development and family studies associate teaching professor, emailed a survey to instructors Oct. 1 to determine if there will be enough courses and seats available for students to satisfy the new requirements. Some 6,000 to 7,000 seats are needed each year.
"The instructors who completed the survey indicated they were quite close to meeting the objectives -- as well as the fact that very few faculty indicated they needed resources to update their courses or more than six months to do it -- so I don't think it is going to be particularly difficult to ensure there will be enough seats," Gillette said. "Units also have the ability to create new classes."
The ad hoc committee will conclude its work at the end of fall semester and submit its recommendations to Wheeler.
The permanent committee's work will help instructors prepare for the rollout. For example, discussion items could include how much of a course's content must focus on the objectives to fulfill the requirement, how to update current diversity courses and submit new courses for consideration, and what the new course review will entail.
The campus committee leading the search for Iowa State's next vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has identified four finalists who will visit campus Dec. 3-8. Each candidate's interview schedule will include a campus public forum at 11 a.m. in the Memorial Union, with in-person and virtual participation options available for the university community.
The name and curriculum vitae for each finalist will be shared on the search website the day preceding their visit.
The dates and locations for the campus forums are:
- Curtis Byrd, special advisor to the provost on diversity, equity and inclusion, Georgia State University, Dec. 3, MU Campanile Room, livestream
- Candidate 2, Dec. 6, MU Campanile Room, livestream
- Candidate 3, Dec. 7, MU Oak Room, livestream
- Candidate 4, Dec. 8, MU Cardinal Room, livestream
Everyone participating in an open forum is encouraged to complete an online candidate feedback form for that candidate.
Senior vice president for student affairs Toyia Younger is leading the 11-member search committee, assisted by the Spelman Johnson search firm. Former vice president for DEI Reginald Stewart left Iowa State in July for a similar position at Chapman University in Orange, California. Senior associate athletics director Charles Small is serving as interim vice president for DEI.
Nearly 65 people so far have been engaged in developing the next university strategic plan, including four working groups that are drafting where they see Iowa State going or becoming over the next decade.
Since organizing in early October, a seven-member steering committee, chaired by vice president for research Peter Dorhout, has determined the new plan's mission, vision and core values, with input and review from President Wendy Wintersteen:
- Mission. Create, share and apply knowledge to make our students, Iowa and the world better.
- Vision. Iowa State University will advance the land-grant ideals of putting science, technology and human creativity to work.
- Values. Respect, purpose, cooperation, richness of diversity, freedom from discrimination, honest and respectful expression of ideas, integrity, access and excellence.
"The mission and vision contain elements refined from previous plans that continue to resonate and remain relevant," Dorhout said. "The core values represent our Principles of Community, along with integrity, access and excellence."
Dorhout has described the current effort as different from traditional strategic planning. This will be a nine-year plan, not a five-year plan. It is more about developing a "to be" list for Iowa State rather than a "to do" list. Another way the new effort is different is within the chosen themes for the plan.
The steering committee established four pillars, or themes, each meant to build on strengths of the university:
- Innovative solutions
- Education experience
- Knowledge and discovery
- Community engagement
"In a more traditional plan, research, teaching and extension would be separate, stand-alone themes. But in our process, we see them threaded throughout our four themes," said Dorhout. "We want researchers, instructors, extension specialists and students to see themselves in more than one pillar."
Each working group is tackling one of the four pillars. Each has 12 to 15 members, representing faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, administrators, ISU Alumni Association and ISU Foundation. The community engagement working group also includes representation from the Ames Chamber of Commerce.
The working groups will have met at least four times by the end of the fall semester. Their first task was to draft "to be" ideas for the themes and help define what success looks like.
They also are imagining the development of a process to identify and select future priority opportunities or projects that move the university closer to achieving its "to be" goals. Ideas that fill the "to be" pipeline could be brought forward by faculty, staff, students or stakeholders.
"We've been using the terms 'strategic plan' and 'strategic process' interchangeably. Both apply, with our current effort focused on how we put in place a continuing process of ideas, analysis and review over a nine-year span," Dorhout said.
A dynamic process
The planners foresee a process that continues to engage the campus community and stakeholders in areas that have the biggest potential impact.
"It'll be a dynamic process that looks at resources available and makes commitments as appropriate," Dorhout said. "Some may be universitywide projects, others may be funded by partnerships with a college or department. Private-sector funding also could play an important role."
The intentional design of the new strategic plan -- or strategic process -- is to keep people engaged in the years to come.
"It can be a living process, not a static plan that sits on a shelf after completion," he said. "We want it to continually think about what we want to be and how we get there. An important part will be communicating progress. We need to be willing and eager to tell the stories of great achievements and milestones happening here."
In December, the four working groups will work to complete their draft "to be" statements and share them with the steering committee. The groups are identifying campus and other stakeholder engagement opportunities that will be planned through next February.
The working groups' ideas on the strategic process that helps guide decisions throughout the life of the plan will be completed in February. A final draft plan is set for April.
Helping to facilitate and provide guidance to the steering committee and working groups are Karen Bramow, strategic plan project manager in the office of vice president for research; Mark Settle, a staff member with the office of strategic relations and communications; and consultants with RSM U.S., a firm with offices in Iowa and many other states.
Improvements completed this fall at the Haber Road-University Boulevard interchange -- the site of a one-lane railroad underpass -- modernized the intersection and significantly improved the safety of pedestrians and cyclists using it.
In addition to adding ADA-compliant sidewalks north and south of the underpass, the project replaced the traffic signals and controller and added a pedestrian-only phase (activated when someone pushes or waves at the button) that holds vehicle traffic in all four directions, allowing cyclists and pedestrians to pass safely through the tunnel. The project also added a countdown indicator for pedestrians, left turn flashing arrows, flashing digital reminder for prohibited right turns on red and the more sensitive radar-based vehicle and bicycle detection -- replacement technology for in-pavement sensors.
Traffic signal projects on campus are funded from the state's institutional roads program administered by the Department of Transportation. Funds come from the state's road use tax and are allocated through the state Board of Regents.
The planning of events at Parks Library during prep and finals weeks hasn't changed, but there is a different feeling after the pandemic caused modifications the past three semesters.
Parks will be open 24/7 Sunday through Wednesday Dec. 12-15. It is a practice that began during the fall semester of 2016, but was interrupted spring 2020 through spring 2021 because of the pandemic.
"It is a certain sense of excitement and normalcy," library communications specialist Monica Gillen said. "I am happy we can offer these things to the students again."
Parks is open during prep week Dec. 6-10 from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. each day, with plenty of activities to help students relax. Barks@Parks, which began in 2014, will feature many four-legged friends in the upper rotunda from noon to 3 p.m. each day. It gives students a break from final exam preparation by petting and cuddling dogs.
"It is another cause for celebration to be able to bring the dogs back in and offer that time for the students," Gillen said. "People get excited about it and post to social media about it."
Other activities available to encourage student well-being include coloring pages and books, puzzles and games. The mindfulness room is available during library hours, and a massage chair will be offered from noon to 3 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of prep week.
Free fresh fruit and coffee -- provided in partnership with the dean of students office -- will be available during late-night hours.
Bookends Cafe will be open its usual hours during prep and finals week, until 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and until 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It opens at 7:30 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. on weekends.
Gillen said the library extends services during this time to help students achieve at their highest level, but reminds them to maintain well-being by leaving when tired to sleep and get proper nutrition.
Over the past couple of years, Parks has renovated several areas in an effort to offer more reliable internet access, USB ports and power outlets. The staff has worked to provide many different kinds of comfortable seating and an array of study spaces for groups and individuals for the 10,000 people who use the library each day, Gillen said.
"The number of students increases during prep and finals weeks, so it gives us a chance to see all of those resources being used," She said. "We want it to be welcoming and provide something for everybody."
Building on the university's strengths
Innovation, creativity, and an entrepreneurial attitude will inspire the curriculum, decision making and outlook for Iowa State University. We will bring forth expertise, technologies, novel perspectives and ideas. By striving to bring a creative mindset and unique solutions to the grand challenges of our local and global communities, ISU will be recognized for its distinctive approach to environmental, social, economic and cultural sustainability and meeting the needs of society with integrity.
Promoting an excellent educational experience focused on student engagement, knowledge growth, transformative educational opportunities, and access to a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming educational environment will create a strong foundation for success and prosperity for a well-educated graduate with lifelong relationships to Iowa State University.
Knowledge and discovery
We will enhance our understanding of our universe and ourselves and create and discover new methods, pedagogies, thought processes, and knowledge. Through deep analysis, research and collaboration, we will bring forth new technologies, science, perspectives and ideas to benefit a changing world.
Through active participation in and partnership with the local, state, and global communities, Iowa State University advances its land-grant mission to serve society by engaging our stakeholders to understand and address their needs and challenges.
Innovative solutions working group
- Imtiajul Alam, graduate student in human computer interaction
- Robbyn Anand, chemistry
- Mark Boeck, ISU Foundation
- Sarah Kaatz, office of research ethics
- Patrick Klepcyk, offices of innovation commercialization and intellectual property
- Michael Lohrbach, IT services
- Surya Mallapragada, office of the vice president for research
- Becky Musselman, office of sponsored programs administration
- Balaji Narasimhan, Nanovaccine Institute
- Jim Oliver, Student Innovation Center
- Jim Reecy, office of the vice president for research
- Beate Schmittman, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences administration
- Adam Schwartz, Ames Laboratory
- Qijing Zhang, College of Veterinary Medicine administration
Education experience working group
- Claire Andreasen, veterinary pathology
- Shawn Boyne, office of the senior vice president and provost
- Jordan Brooks, College of Design administration
- Julia Campbell, student government
- Rachel Vos Carrillo, human development and family studies
- Pete Englin, campus life
- Pete Evans, industrial design
- Sharron Evans, office of the dean of students
- Michael Giles, recreation services
- Bill Graves, Graduate College administration
- David Inyang, environmental health & safety
- Loreto Prieto, psychology
- Charles Small, office of the vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion
- Katharine Suski, office of admissions
- Bonnie Whalen, office of the senior vice president for operations and finance
Knowledge and discovery working group
- Sarah Bennett-George, Faculty Senate
- Kristen Constant, IT services
- Theressa Cooper, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences administration
- Kristi Darr, university human resources
- Steve Freeman, agricultural and biosystems engineering
- Paul Fuligni, facilities planning and management
- Daniel Loy, animal science
- Sara Marcketti, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching
- Jo Anne Powell-Coffman, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences administration
- Hilary Seo, university library
- Brian Tapp, farm, food and enterprise development
- Martin Thuo, materials science and engineering
- Jerry Zamzow, office of the vice president for research
- Karen Zunkel, office of institutional research
Community engagement working group
- Barbara Biederman, office of university counsel
- Ron Cox, Center for Industrial Research and Service
- Dan Culhane, Ames Economic Development/Cultivation Corridor
- Jeremy Galvin, ISU Foundation
- Nadilia Gomez, digital and precision agriculture biosciences platform
- Dan Grooms, College of Veterinary Medicine administration
- Jacy Johnson, office of strategic relations and communications
- Jeff Johnson, ISU Alumni Association
- Kris Kilibarda, program for women in science and engineering
- John Lawrence, Extension and Outreach
- Frank Montabon, supply chain management
- Bob Reason, College of Human Sciences administration
- Rick Sanders, ISU Research Park
Celebrate the arrival of prep week (Dec. 6-10) and the winter holiday season during Iowa State's annual WinterFest Friday afternoon and evening, Dec. 3, at numerous central campus locations. Enjoy hot chocolate and other holiday beverages, hot chili and hot deals at the ISU Book Store and Art Mart. If cool is more your style, there's ISU Creamery ice cream, a 5-kilometer fun run and horse-drawn wagon rides on a central campus loop.
All WinterFest activities are free (unless noted) and open to the public.
President Wendy Wintersteen and first spouse Robert Waggoner have moved their WinterFest open house from the Knoll to the spacious ground floor of Beardshear Hall (4-6 p.m.). Guests can enjoy hot chocolate, apple cider, cookies and ice cream, as well as live music by a student string quartet.
The holiday tree on central campus will light for the first time of the season Friday at dusk. The lineup of Friday's holiday events includes:
- Holiday sale, 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m., ISU Book Store, Memorial Union
- Poinsettia sale, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., near bookstore entrance, MU
- Art Mart, noon-8 p.m., Art Gallery, MU ground floor, glass, pottery, prints, jewelry and more by campus organizations and local artists. Art Mart also is open Dec. 2 (10 a.m.-4 p.m.) and Dec. 4 (10 a.m.-1 p.m.)
- Christmas tree and wreath sale, 3-6 p.m., Reiman Gardens parking lot
- President's open house, 4-6 p.m., ground floor, Beardshear Hall
- Seasonal hot beverage sampling, 4-7 p.m., Market & Cafe, MU
- Holiday craft-making, 4-8 p.m., ugly sweater ornaments, The Workspace, MU
- Face painting, 4-8 p.m., featuring holiday designs, Campanile Room, MU
- Photo booth, 4-9:30 p.m., Campanile Room, MU
- Chair massages, 4-9:30 p.m., Room 3580, MU
- Bowling and billiards, 4-9:30 p.m., CyBowl & Billiards, MU
- Student concert (carillon, vocal and instrumental), 4:30 p.m., accompanies a reading of "The Polar Express," Sukup atrium, Biorenewables Complex
- Open house, 5-8 p.m., Victorian yuletide-themed activities and crafts and holiday treats, Farm House Museum, central campus
- Bingo, 5-9 p.m., Sun Room, MU
- Craft service projects, 5-9 p.m., T-shirt dog toys and fleece blanket-making to benefit local non-profits, Cardinal Room, MU
- 5K Jingle Jog, 5:30 p.m., $15 (includes T-shirt and jingle swag), central campus route, check-in begins at 4 p.m. in the MU main lounge, 15th annual fun run memorializes former First-Year Council member Andy Albright, with proceeds supporting a scholarship in his name, registration
- Chili and corn muffins, 6 p.m. while supplies last, Pine Room, MU
- Cookie decorating and hot chocolate, 6 p.m. while supplies last, Oak Room, MU
- Central campus wagon rides, 6-9:30 p.m., loading at the MU west loop driveway
- Swing dance lessons, 6-9:30 p.m., room 3560, MU
- Movie showing and ugly sweater competition, "Home Alone," 7:30 p.m., Durham Great Hall, MU, bring a blanket for floor seating (limited chair seating will be provided)
WinterFest is hosted by the MU student engagement office in collaboration with Student Union Board, AfterDark, Campus Service Council, First-Year Council, The Workspace and CyBowl & Billiards, with financial support from Student Government and the Ames Convention and Visitors Bureau. Questions may be directed to email@example.com or 515-294-8081.