Pitt works to alleviate shortage of researchers, temporary workers


Image via Bill Branson, Wikimedia Commons

A row of test tubes in a lab.

By Jack Troy, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt is grappling with staffing shortages amid a shrinking, but substantial deficit of higher education employees nationwide and worker-friendly job market. 

“The University is experiencing challenges similar to other institutions and corporations in the current employment and labor market,” Lisa Garland, director of talent acquisition in the Office of Human Resources, said. “Our current efforts are focused on research positions and various temporary positions including seasonal work.”

Pitt’s job application portal lists 201 open research positions as of Monday, with a majority in medical-related fields. There are an additional 17 research scientist openings and 26 research coordinator openings categorized under “health professional” in Talent Center.

Administrative jobs compose the second largest in-demand category with 136 open positions in Pittsburgh, followed by a dozen or more roles in information technology, communications and student services, among others. 

Pitt is also seeking 56 temporary workers for an array of duties, from overnight cleaners to data analysts.

Garland said the University is attempting to bridge these labor gaps through “external career and community events,” as well as an on-campus career fair in November. 

The portal doesn’t display most food service or security jobs — they’re contracted out to Compass Group and Allied Universal, respectively. 

Allied Universal Vice President of Communications Sherifa Colfett did not confirm whether shortages exist among their ranks, but said a recruiting team works to keep “all positions staffed with candidates ready to immediately fill any open positions.”

Compass Group did not respond to requests for comment on their vacancies or hiring practices, but the University Times chronicled the contractor’s staffing shortages as of December. Pitt’s dining workforce was down 22% from its usual size with the recruitment pipeline “dried up completely,” said Quintin Eason, the company’s vice president of operations. 

Serving hungry students has been a persistent challenge at other universities. The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee asked faculty and staff to volunteer at cafeterias last month, drawing incredulity from the combined union. 

32BJ Service Employees International Union represents the 300 security guards and 200 dining workers contracted by Pitt, in addition to 450 custodial and maintenance workers directly employed by the University. 

“While staffing shortages certainly do affect our members, the data on staffing and the responsibility of hiring is with the University or its contracted employers,” Sam Williamson, Western PA District Leader at 32BJ said. “However, we strongly believe that living wages and good benefits through union jobs help maintain quality staff in workplaces that people want to work and stay in.” 

All other staff, including academic advisers, research coordinators and administrative assistants, remain unrepresented by a union. That could change going forward as organizers enter year two of a drive to join United Steelworkers. 

Pitt faculty was the third and most recent higher education union to join USW and be recognized by their employer. 

“If we are all in the same international union we can stand together in solidarity,” the staff union said on their website. 

The page also lists four key bargaining issues to better “reflect the dedication and expertise” staff bring to the institution — advancement, parking, healthcare and pay. 

According to Jen Goeckeler-Fried, a Pitt lab manager and member of the organizing committee, the union could be a means to avoiding future shortages. 

“Forming a staff union will provide us with a seat at the table, a voice in decisions regarding our working conditions and an opportunity to build a stronger university community — all of which help to attract and retain qualified staff,” Goeckeler-Fried said.