How K-12 operators are tackling labor and supply chain issues

Panelists at the 2023 School Nutrition Industry Conference

Photo: “Benita Gingerella”

Supply chain and workforce challenges were a hot topic at the School Nutrition Association’s School Nutrition Industry Conference in San Diego earlier this week. Throughout the conference, operators shared their ongoing staffing and procurement challenges and how they are trying to tackle them this school year.

Here are four ways they’ve tackled these issues.

1. Hosting recruitment events

At the Cobb County School District in Marietta, Ga., the nutrition team began organizing their own recruiting event after realizing that filling out a job application in the area could be confusing and would take prospective employees about an hour and a half to complete.

Now, prospective recruits fill out a simple Google form first. From there, they engage in a phone call with the school nutrition staff. Those who pass the phone interview stage are invited to the recruitment event where they sit down for a face-to-face interview.

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“If we like them at the recruiting event, we sit down with them and [district’s] So we can hire them,” says Emily Hanlin, Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services.

2. Requesting RAP list

Candace Crump, director of food service at Bellflower Unified School District in Bellflower, California, asks if there is a list of RAPs they can provide to their distributors to help combat product shortages. A RAP that stands for “ready, available and popular” is a list of popular products that the distributor has in hand.

“They send you about twice a month, and it’s an Excel spreadsheet list of all these items that are available and that you can order,” says Crump.

3. Thinking ahead and embracing new options

Alyssia Wright, Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Operations at Fulton County Public Schools in Atlanta, takes the time to evaluate their products and is careful to contact manufacturers to ask about the predictability of certain items. If She comes back and says they won’t have an item in stock for the foreseeable future, she takes it off the menu and instead looks for replacement parts that sometimes become more popular than the original product.

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“We had a problem with Texas toast, so we replaced it with cornbread,” he says. “We haven’t served cornbread before except for promotional type stuff, but it’s been a hit all year.”

4. Opening the kitchen flow

Since school kitchens in the Maine deal will close staffing gaps, Executive Chef and School Nutrition Advisor Samantha Gasbarro says she spent time assessing the back of the house at the school she works with to see if there are better ways to manage their flow. She recommends k-12 operators take a close look at their kitchen efficiency and see if there are any ways that could be improved.

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“We can’t keep waiting for bodies,” he says. We have to adapt and figure out how that will work where we are now.”

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