Human resources department plans job fair with on-the-spot interviews

by Jim Boyle

Editor

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Such is the case in the Elk River Area School District and elsewhere across the state and nation as human resource departments get creative to find ways to fill job vacancies.

Tim Caskey, the director of human resources for ISD 728, informed Elk River Area School Board members of the challenges they have faced and continue to face with staff shortages.

District 728 will be increasing the amount of advertising it will do to attract potential employees. Starting Oct. 24 it will be using digital billboards along Highway 169.

“All of our schools will use digital reader boards,” Caskey said. “Our focus will be on custodial, food service and community education.”

They are also promoting a Nov. 3 job fair that will offer on-the-spot job interviews and offers to work. Snacks will also be available, Caskey said.

District 728 officials are also looking at extending time for licensure for custodians and modifying the minimum requirements to substitute teach in the school district.

Snapshot of dilemma

As of Monday, Oct. 11, District 728 Schools were short:

• 13 food service positions.

• 11 special education positions, including social workers, speech clinicians and psychologists.

• 10 assistants.

• 17 District 728 Community Education positions, including site leaders, child care workers and instructors.

• 13 custodial positions, which are primarily openings on second shift.

The Elk River Area School District is not alone. The Minnesota Department of Education has identified teaching positions within special education, science and math as troublesome across the state, and job boards that school districts use to recruit candidates also illustrate the dilemma Caskey and his team face providing schools with the human resources they need.

Ed Post, the primary education website that school districts across the state use, shows that within a 25-mile radius of Elk River, there were over 200 education positions open recently.

That included 12 posts for science teachers.

“I’m happy to report none of them were ours,” Caskey said. “We have our science teachers.”

There were also 41 special education teacher posts, another 22 custodian posts, not including the ones ISD 728 has available, and another 24 food service job listings, not including the ones in ISD 728.

As of Oct. 8, current openings on indeed.com, one of the largest job boards in the nation, showed that within 25 miles of Elk River there were:

• 124 special education positions open between public and private school education opportunities.

• 887 food service jobs.

• 357 custodial positions.

“I show you this so you have an idea of what our competitions is,” Caskey said.

Filling custodial, special education positions have added challenges

An added challenge to filling custodial positions and those in the area of special education is the availability of licensed workers and those with the specialized training.

Many of the jobs in special education require specialized training, and there are not a lot of graduates coming out with special education endorsements, Caskey said.

The biggest challenge to filling the ranks of custodians is a shortage of lead custodians, who must have a boilers license.

The Department of Labor shut down the testing and classes for a time, and now school districts find themselves playing catch up, Caskey said.

Here in the Elk River Area School District there has been an uptick in resignations and retirements.

“We had over 20 retirements in August, which was higher than usual,” Caskey said. “We made up a word for it.”

It’s called “pandemicked.”

“People are ‘pandemicked’ out,” Caskey said. “They don’t want to work anymore, and they want to retire.”

The pandemic has been the root of other problems, too.

For instance, the jobs available now don’t always line up with what someone was doing when they were laid off months ago.

District officials have also noticed many people are also reconsidering their careers.

“They were off during COVID time at home or away from work and thought about what they wanted to do,” Caskey said, noting some people are not comfortable returning to due to COVID-19, and there are still secondary issues like availability of child care.

Finding substitutes has also been a problem. The Elk River Area School District has used a service called Teachers on Call since 2019-20 school year. Caskey reported 139 substitute teachers have signed up to sub in the Elk River Area School District or elsewhere (as they are not exclusively assigned to one district). There are currently only 25 who have been assigned to District 728 this year.

“There’s a reluctance on the part of some to return back to school,” Caskey said of the shrinking pool.

The average fill rate across Minnesota in September was 69.44%. The national average was 60%. Here in the Elk River Area School District, the average was 76.20%.

“We would love it to be at 100%, but we’re also real about this,” Caskey said.

Caskey concluded with a plug to those in the audience, those watching live or others that may be interested in working in the school district to visit ISD728.org/JoinOurTeam.

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