At the moment, staffing shortages are a major obstacle in K‑12 school food service. Nutrition directors and operators are struggling to get the employees they had prior to the pandemic back to the cafeteria. In fact, the food industry lost nearly 2.5 million jobs in 2020 alone.
It’s completely possible to fill the employment gaps across your program, but some clever recruitment tactics will help make it happen faster. One smart tactic: Communicate the benefits of a career in K‑12 school food service. While there are many reasons to choose a career in district food service, no job is perfect, so providing a realistic portrayal of what the job entails will also help with retention.
Let’s first take a look at some misconceptions recruits might have about food service in schools and how you can present a more realistic picture of the job.
Needed: Creative Problem Solvers in K‑12 School Food Service
You don’t get to cook whatever you want. It’s possible that you’ve interviewed candidates who thought they’d get to put their culinary skills to work. Communicate that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has stringent rules about the food that is served to kids—presenting a creative challenge of making enticing meals to kids within those guidelines.
You cannot cook with wine, beer, or spirits. This may be an obvious limitation for serving kids, but candidates may think it’s possible to include cooking with spirits as an ingredient. So communicate that clearly upfront when discussing the guidelines within which they’ll prepare meals.
Balancing USDA regulations while also creating enjoyable meals for kids requires a deep understanding of ingredients, recipes, and menus. Each meal presents a fresh challenge for food service teams to create kid-friendly meals with the allowable ingredients. Recently, supply chain issues have made this even more challenging, requiring creative problem solving. At its core, the opportunity to creatively problem-solve around challenges can inspire applicants looking for ways to exercise their skills.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the need for creative problem solvers, let’s dive into the most significant benefits of working in K‑12 school food service.
Working in K‑12 School Food Service
A career in school food service is very rewarding; you get to feed children from all economic backgrounds so they are nourished and ready to learn. Did you know that 1 in 8 children face hunger in the U.S.? Every child with food insecurity is at risk for development delays, poorer academic performance, and social and behavioral problems. Taking a job with a school nutrition department gives candidates the chance to do their part to eliminate food insecurity for children.
7 Benefits of Working in School Nutrition
- You are making a difference. More than 9 million children live in food insecure homes, and for these kids the food you provide may be the only thing they eat all day. And most kids love to eat. The look of appreciation you get from a child is priceless.
- Take your kids to work! As a parent, your work schedule and your child’s school schedule will be pretty closely aligned, if not the same. And not having to drop off kids and then drive to work somewhere else is a major advantage. Plus, how great is it to see your kids during the day, eating lunch with their friends (and making sure that they eat their vegetables)?
- Medical benefits coverage. School employees can get receive excellent benefits, which may include:
- Health Insurance
- Retirement Plan
- Group Life Insurance/Disability Insurance
- Short and Long-Term Disability
- Dental and Vision Insurance
- Credit Union Access
- Workers Compensation Accident Insurance
- Paid Time Off and Sick Leave
- Get free continuing education. Many school districts will pay for professional development, so you can learn new skills and make yourself more valuable.
- Work with incredible people. Schools attract people who care about the mission of education, and working with a community of kind, caring, and respectful people makes a difference in how much you enjoy your job.
- Weekends and holidays off. Especially for families who still have kids at home, it’s a benefit to know you don’t have to get childcare covered when schools are closed for a holiday. Plus, with weekends free, you have time to plan around those days for vacations, family time, or just plain downtime!
- Chill out on snow days. If you lived in a colder-weather climate when you were a child, think back to how excited you were for a snow day! Recapture that feeling as you get to take the day off when the schools are closed.
A Job in K‑12 School Food Service is a Solid Choice
Whether you’re casting the recruiting net far and wide or if you’re hyper-focused on parents and guardians, the benefits of working in school nutrition make it a compelling choice. When you get an interested candidate, focus on driving home the benefits of working on a school food service team. Beyond ensuring students are nourished and ready to learn, school nutrition professionals benefit from a slew of benefits.
Don’t limit your recruiting to only those with food service experience; include recruitment messages where those in your education community will see them. Whether it’s your school menu or your school nutrition website, make sure to open up the opportunity to the community at large. You never know what amazing talent you’ll find.