Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On Wednesday, September 20, College staff members Greg Brown, Varo Duffins, Karen Henry, Kristin Moore, and Nancy Nicely discussed developments in the student employment process with student representatives from The Phoenix (Leren Gao ‘20, Shreya Chattopadhyay ‘20) and The Daily Gazette (Ethan Yoo ‘19).
The primary purpose of the briefing was to introduce the employment system a working committee developed over the summer. The committee contracted for a new, centralized application system called JobX that Brown hopes will make the student employment process more responsive to students’ needs.
Brown acknowledged that the College has heard for some time that finding campus employment is difficult, particularly for incoming students, who, as found by The Phoenix have historically experienced high levels of stress throughout the process. He reaffirmed the College’s commitment to giving priority to students who have work-aid as part of their financial aid package, while admitting that the staff have not been consistent in resolving that concern. Simplifying the process – which currently varies by department and often requires additional paperwork – became a priority for the staff after Student Employment Committee-sponsored discussions on campus-based student employment (The Phoenix). Brown continued to express a need for student jobs to be meaningful, a concern he heard in particular from incoming and first-generation students. “A job is great, but a job that actually can be added to a resume or might lead to something like summer employment, is another priority we needed to address,” he said.
How JobX Works
Brown explained the idea behind JobX: students will fill out a “generic application” (some of which will be pre-populated through linkage with student ID numbers) that will remain on file until updated, reducing the amount of paperwork necessary when applying for new jobs. In addition, jobs that require additional information like a portfolio will have a drop-down menu in JobX, rather than the separate specialized applications that some positions currently require. The staff members expect any campus employment opportunities to be posted through this portal that, per Moore, will be accessible through MySwarthmore.
Brown and Moore mentioned that a student employee worked over the summer to ensure that the user interface makes sense. According to Brown, many colleges like Swarthmore already use the system, so the trial-and-error process for the new systems will be minimal. The College’s plan is to roll out the software in the spring of 2018, during the process of hiring stipend student employees (e.g. Resident Assistants, Green Advisors, Diversity Peer Advisors). Brown’s logic in doing this is that since this group makes up a large part of the employed student population, the application process for these positions will serve as a test run before having the system go live for the entire campus at the beginning of the 2018-2019 academic year.
Per Brown, employers will be asked to post their jobs well before students arrive, to consider setting aside positions for incoming first-year students, and to attend the student employment fair during Orientation. Brown hopes that with incoming students able to access the portal prior to their arrival, the job fair will become more than an opportunity for them to solely gather information.
Moore displayed the test site that Swarthmore students will eventually use through MySwarthmore, mentioning again that students would complete the “universal default institutional application” (the “generic application” referred to earlier by Brown) once and update it as needed. Students will have the ability to upload resumes, portfolios if requested, and answer additional questions specific to employees, although Moore hopes that the universal application will eliminate the need for such questions. The system will also inform students where they stand in the application process, which, according to Moore, has been a huge question for students. According to Moore and Brown, the Payroll Office will collaborate closely with employers throughout the process to ensure it is “streamlined.”
Employers will have to follow the same format in designing their job descriptions, which was mentioned but not discussed in detail by Brown. Moore discovered during this process that there are hundreds of student positions that have not been filled in several years. According to Brown, these jobs will be removed from the system.
The working committee collaborated with the Dean’s Office, Center for Innovation and Leadership, and Career Services to understand the terminology important for students making their electronic portfolios, which the members hope will also serve as a resource for students. Moore echoed Brown’s sentiment about student employment. “We really tried to make this a more holistic approach and more along the lines of learning outside the classroom, not simply getting a paycheck,” she said.
According to Brown, the staff is looking at allowing only students who are work-aided to apply for jobs during an “exemption period.” Students whose financial aid packages include a work-aid amount have traditionally received an email from the Financial Aid Office requesting “priority consideration” by employers. This exemption period, if it is to remain the same length of time as the current hiring priority, will last through the first week of classes.
Brown stated that the staff’s future plans include looking at the pay grades. The committee will shift focus to compensation after the launch of the online system. Brown stated that the staff also want to ensure that:
“[…] students understand the balance between work and student life – and, you know, making sure that they’re not working too much – because I think that student success is really what we’re really all about, but access to jobs clearly – I think is – a big part of making the experience easier for students.”
When Brown opened the session for student questions, Shreya Chattopadhyay ‘20 asked how the portal will affect the status of students who already have a campus job. Moore responded that supervisors will have the ability to quickly perform rehires, and that students will receive a notification by email when they have been rehired. This process will also allow for employers to list the number of positions that are open and available versus those that are already filled.
Chattopadhyay also asked about the priority process for work-aided students. Moore said that, because applications are tied to student ID numbers, the system will automatically inform and stop applicants who are not eligible to apply during the exemption period. In addition, the portal will allow students to contact the Financial Aid and Payroll Offices with questions regarding their work-aid status.
In response to a question from Chattopadhyay about “balance,” Henry recommended that students communicate with deans and their supervisors regarding work expectations. Moore also pointed out that the system will not prevent students from accepting multiple jobs because, as noted by the staff at the briefing, many students work at more than one job. “Overworking” is seen as a separate question that Moore does not assume JobX will solve, beyond providing more descriptive job descriptions that will reduce the number of “surprises.” Henry said that as a supervisor, she encourages work-aided students to take on three to five hours a week because it necessitates the development of time management skills, but that as a dean, she cautions students against working “too much.”
The Daily Gazette asked for clarification regarding the conflict between what Henry had said regarding her recommendation that students work three to five hours a week and the Financial Aid Office’s email to work-aided students that “a work aid amount of $2,040 for the year represents about 7 or 8 hours of work each week.” Henry clarified that three to five hours a week is an example within her own student positions but left open the question of when a student is considered “overworking,” which, as previously mentioned, students should discuss with supervisors and other support staff as needed. Moore said that students typically work “what they feel they need or what they want.” Duffins agreed, saying that while he sees some students as driven to work because “they feel they need to work,” there are also students who see employment as a “sport-like” commitment.
Moore described work-aid as an opportunity wherein the Financial Aid Office takes into account their estimates for personal expenses. With the introduction of Worthmore, the textbook and dormitory room supply expenses will likely go down for some students; SwatDeck and the College’s new SEPTA Independence Pass lottery allow for students to go into Philadelphia; and the ability to use OneCard at the CO-OP and “Swat Points” in the “Health and Beauty” category at the Swarthmore Campus and Community Store reduces personal expenses. In addition, the Dean’s Office’s Student Emergency Fund serves as a potential resource for students who need immediate financial assistance such as for “unusual or unexpected medical expenses.”
Once-Annual Student Employment Opportunities
The discussion shifted from jobs with weekly commitments to one-time campus employment opportunities such as the Scott Arboretum plant sales or Alumni Weekend. These annual jobs will be included in the portal, while summer jobs will be included beginning with the summer of 2019. When asked by The Daily Gazette whether the employers would still send all-campus emails for these opportunities, or whether that responsibility would fall instead to the Financial Aid Office or Student Payroll with the introduction of JobX, Moore responded that they have not yet determined the specific aspects of such communication. Moore referred to classifieds on “The Dash” and “Reserved Student Digest” (RSD) as the “interim repository” for new positions and one that she has heavily relied upon during the preparation. Although neither Brown nor Moore foresee employers discontinuing their all-campus emails, the staff have discussed with Informational Technology Services (ITS) the possibility of reminding students to look at the employment portal upon logging into MySwarthmore.
The staff agreed that this year has gone more smoothly for administrators in terms of student employment. An email was sent over the summer to faculty, staff, and later, students, with “interim steps to support student employment” while JobX is being prepared for implementation. In their communications with incoming students, administrators also included a list of the materials that students would need to bring for the Payroll Office to expedite their hiring process. In their correspondence with campus employers, the staff found that supervisors too were “very excited and very eager to help the students […] and [administrators] have had no pushback.” Moore does not foresee JobX as the “end-all, be all; this is just the start.”