Scheduling Student Workers: 5 Major Pitfalls and What to Do About Them

Student workers and work-study programs are critical elements of a university or college’s workforce but they can quickly–and quietly–undermine budgets if this unique workforce isn’t managed properly.

Leveraging a student workforce is not only a cost-effective option for universities but also offers another level of learning for students and helps create a holistic live-study-work culture.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, around 3,400 postsecondary schools hire students through work-study programs, and many also offer employment opportunities outside of the federally-funded program.

On the flip side, however, scheduling student workers efficiently is a real challenge for university staff. and can turn out to be quite costly to individual departments and the university as a whole.

Every university is different and likely has very different ways of dealing with the specific challenges that arise on their campuses, but there are really 5 major pitfalls anyone scheduling student workers or managing work-study program will face:

5 Things to Remember About Scheduling Student Workers
  1. Students have erratic availability
  2. Work-study and international students have hourly limitations
  3. Your workforce changes every semester
  4. Schedules need to be ultra flexible–and changes easy-to-make
  5. It’s like staffing a mini city

#1 Students Have Erratic Availability

It is not only possible but almost certain that every one of your student workers has unique availability. Because they need to work around class schedules, there is rarely a single type of shift that would work consistently.

For example, 60 student workers might be available Tuesdays at 1pm, but the same 60 might not be available for that shift any other day of the week. If you’re scheduling 200 students and every day requires a different mix of workers, things can get really messy really fast.

Just capturing each of those students’ schedules at the beginning of a semester can take days if not weeks of effort. Look for scheduling support that allows student workers to enter their own availability. Then make it policy that each student worker enter all their own information prior to week one.

Additionally, you’ll want to make sure you can quickly and easily set up custom availability profiles for each worker so when it comes time to create a schedule, your system can do all the heavy lifting–either auto-populating the shifts or only showing the student workers that are available and credentialed.

#2 Work restriction infractions have real consequences

Both work-study and international students are capped at 20 hours per week maximum, adding yet another layer to the complexity of scheduling student workers. Simply coordinating between the financial aid office and the individual departments employing work-study students can be challenging if you don’t have the right technology in place.

Additionally, there are very real consequences for international students who exceed their 20 hours-per-week limit. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE):

“Not complying with these guidelines for on-campus employment may be a violation of status that could result in the F-1 student having to leave the United States.”

While eliminating overtime issues to save on budget and increase efficiency is incredibly valuable, with such high stakes, eliminating human error and relying on exceptionally secure compliance rules is quite literally critical to your students’ lives.

#3 Your workforce changes every semester

The makeup of your student workforce–and when they’re available–changes every semester. Spring, winter, fall and summer breaks complicate the process even further as both the workforce and the departments and shifts that need covered change significantly.

If your university’s managers are creating schedules by hand or even using pre-built Excel or Google sheets, this means re-doing workflows every three to four months.

Simplify the process with date-based availability profiles so each student worker’s profile can be set by semester.

With software that supports different profiles for different date ranges, the scheduling workflow for managers or supervisors stays the same even when the individual students and their availability changes, saving tons of time and effort.

#4 Schedules change constantly

Students are at your university to, well, be students. That means on-campus jobs often come last when students need to prioritize their time. That also means department heads and university staff end up spending a lot of time managing complicated ever-changing schedules.

Maybe Owen is scheduled to work breakfast shift in the cafe but has a final at noon and wants to either sleep in or cram all morning. Or Kristin is scheduled to work at the library until 10pm but has a soccer game super early the next day.

Even software with shift-swapping features can get confusing if they don’t include all the student workers’ unique profile details or require students to log in before they see what shifts are available for pick up.

An ideal solution includes not only an online swap board where student workers can trade shifts quickly and easily but one that sends notifications out and can automatically enforce skills, maximum hours per week and any other restriction or credentials you need.

#5 Universities are like mini cities

At the end of the day, universities really are like mini cities when it comes to staffing–student workers included. From food service and computer labs to security, medical centers, residence halls, events and more, there are dozens (even hundreds) of businesses within the auspices of the wider institution.

Your schedules need to adapt to the unique needs of each of those individual departments or service areas, yet be secure, compliant, efficient and easy manage. It is possible. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. It is simply a matter of using the right technology in a way that makes sense for how your university ecosystem works.

Find out how you can work smarter when it comes to scheduling student workers (and more). Tell us what your biggest challenge is right now.

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