Operations

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

School Nutrition Industry Conference speakers and attendees shared what they’re doing right now to overcome product and staffing shortages, including these four ideas.
Panelists at the 2023 School Nutrition Industry Conference
Photo: Benita Gingerella

Supply chain and labor challenges were a major topic at the School Nutrition Association’s School Nutrition Industry Conference held in San Diego earlier this week. Throughout the conference, operators shared their ongoing staffing and procurement difficulties and how they’ve tried to combat them this school year.

Here are four ways they’re taking on those issues.

1. Hosting hiring events

At Cobb County School District in Marietta, Ga., the nutrition team began hosting its own hiring event after realizing that filling out a job application at the district can be confusing and takes prospective employees about an hour and a half to complete.

Now, prospective hires first fill out a simple Google form. From there, they participate in a phone interview with school nutrition staff. Those that pass the phone interview phase are invited to the hiring event, where they sit for an in-person interview.

“If we liked them at the hiring event, we sit with them and help them fill out the [district’s] application so that we can then hire them,” says Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services Emily Hanlin. “We've done four of these, and we're averaging 35 to 50 hires every time we do.”

2. Asking for a RAP list

To help combat product shortages, Candace Crump, foodservice director at Bellflower Unified School District in Bellflower, Calif., asks her distributors if they have a RAP list they could provide. A RAP, which stands for “ready, available and popular,” is a list of popular products that the distributor has on hand.

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

3. Thinking ahead and embracing new options

At Fulton County Public Schools in Atlanta, Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Operations Alyssia Wright takes time to evaluate her products and makes a point to contact manufacturers to ask about the predictability of certain items. If they come back and say that they won’t have an item in stock for the foreseeable future, she eliminates it from the menu and instead looks for replacements, which sometimes become more popular than the original item.

“We had an issue with Texas toast and so we substituted it with cornbread,” she says. “We have never served cornbread before outside of promotional type things, but it has been a hit all year long.”

4. Switching up the kitchen flow 

As school kitchens in Maine deal will staffing gaps, Executive Chef and School Nutrition Consultant Samantha Gasbarro says she’s spent time assessing the back of house at the school she works with to see if there are better ways to manage their flow. She recommends that K-12 operators take a hard look at their kitchen efficiency and see if there are any ways it can be improved upon.

“We just can’t keep waiting for bodies,” she says. “We have to adjust, and we have to figure out how this is going to work where we are right now.”

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