Missouri school district hires its own students to fill labor shortages

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Amid ongoing labor shortages, one Missouri school district has taken a unique approach to fill some of its open positions: Hire students.

The Northwest School District in High Ridge, just southwest of St. Louis, has started to hire some of its students to fill jobs related to custodial work, food service, and after-school programs for some students up to the fifth grade.

“Some of the positions have been short-staffed since last year,” the district’s chief operating officer, Kim Hawk, told Fox 2.

“We just have struggled to find any help at all, and if you drive around and look at the help-wanted signs everywhere, you know the competition is stiff,” she added. “So, we knew we had to come up with some other plan.”

“We have kids that are very capable and able to hold good jobs in this community and other places of employment, so to reflect on that and say why wouldn’t we use those resources within our own facilities,” Dr. Desi Kirchhofer, superintendent of Northwest Schools, told Fox 2.

According to Mark Catalana, the school district’s chief human resources officer, officials decided on hiring students because of ongoing labor shortages locally and nationally.

“Prior to COVID we were experiencing a shortage of applicants but the pandemic has made the situation worse,” Catalana told Fox News, adding that the opportunity to work for the school district “absolutely” gives students valuable life experience.

“The District Mission is that all students will be ‘Respectful, Responsible, Resilient life-long learners ready for success in a complex and ever-changing world,'” he said. “We feel the opportunity to be employed by the District allows them to stay connected to their school and community as well as provided real-life work skills beyond high school.”

The human resources director went on to note that many of the district’s students are taking interest in working for the school.

“We’re very pleased with the amount of interest our students have shown in these positions. They are very excited to have this opportunity to work here,” Catalana told the network, adding that working for the district can be a better alternative than other jobs elsewhere that may require students to work late shifts, holidays, and on weekends.

“Our priority will always be their education and we are committed to providing a flexible schedule so they can continue to focus on their academics and still be involved in school-related activities,” Catalana noted. “If they worked at fast-food restaurants, they work long nights, evenings, weekends, holidays.”

Thus far, 25 students have applied for open positions in the district. Officials say they are currently undergoing the onboarding and training process.

“We’re going to actually hire more students than we have positions for, so we have the flexibility for the students’ schedules,” Hawk added. “If they have a big test coming up, we have the flexibility for their schedules because their grades and being a student is their first priority.”

District officials say that officials from other schools have called to ask how the student hiring program is going, with an eye toward implementing a similar plan to alleviate their own labor shortages.

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