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UND passes pre-pandemic employment levels, will continue to hire

More employees will be needed to accommodate for new positions as construction projects like the Memorial Union wind down, and get set to open.

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Construction workers work on a total remodel of O'Kelly Hall on UND's campus, on June 17, 2021. (Adam Kurtz/Grand Forks Herald)

The number of full-time employees at UND now surpasses pre-pandemic levels, and the university likely will need to continue to add to its workforce.

More employees will be needed to accommodate new positions as construction projects like the Memorial Union wind down, and get set to open. Filling those positions will be a challenge, and the university has added incentives to attract new workers. New faculty members also will need to be hired for cross-disciplinary research positions in fields like aerospace and engineering, as UND looks to partner with the U.S. Space Force.

“We're in that game, so we'll be doing more hiring in those areas to support the need for more research, and that's really helped us,” said Associate Vice President for Human Resources Peggy Varberg.

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Parts of the university that saw growth during the pandemic include the Center for Innovation, John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, College of Engineering and Mines and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines. Leading the way is the Energy and Environmental Research Center, which accounts for most of the newly added research positions.

“That's because they've been really successful the last couple of years in securing grant funding,” said Meloney Linder, vice president of marketing and communications.

Other parts of the university, including the College of Arts and Sciences and the Nistler College of Business and Public Administration, saw employee reductions as part of a restructuring effort that was in process before the pandemic impacted the region. According to UND spokesman David Dodds, employee reductions follow declining enrollments at those colleges. The College of Engineering and Mines also underwent restructuring; while some positions were eliminated, the total number of positions actually increased as a result of the reorganization.

As of May 1, the number of full-time employees at UND stood at 3,609, up from 3,529 on Jan. 1, 2020. During the pandemic, the number of building service technicians increased as UND needed more space to house students due to a one-student-per-room policy. Some of those employees are now being moved to similar positions in academic buildings.

With newly-created service technician positions, at the Memorial Union for example, people working in existing service technician positions need to apply if they wish to work there. According to Varberg, it wouldn't be fair to “slide” employees to the new location. UND will take on newly hired people for those positions as well.

Varberg said hiring is just as much a challenge at UND as it is for other employers. UND, she said, is offering sign-on bonuses as an incentive.

“You have to look at what your market is, and the market right now is pretty soft,” Varberg said.

UND is in quite a different position now than it was in April 2020, when the pandemic put the squeeze on the university’s budget. Flight operations were suspended for a time, which reduced the university’s revenue. Workers had hours reduced, and 456 employees were furloughed.

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According to Dodds, the majority of those employees have been brought back to work. Of the furloughed employees:

  • Eight have left employment at UND;
  • 11 were called back to work almost immediately;
  • 10 came back between 1-14 days;
  • 63 were called back between 15-30 days;
  • 182 were called back between 31-60 days;
  • and 182 were brought back between 61-79 days.

In recent years, UND has employed a Voluntary Separation Incentive Program to free up money in its two-year budget cycle. Employees who meet the “rule of 65” – age plus years of employment – can ask to participate and potentially receive a predetermined amount to retire early.
UND offered VSIPs in 2016, after the price of oil tanked a year prior, and again in 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2021. It’s unclear if the program will be offered in 2022.

“It's not a given that we're going to do it every year,” Varberg said. “We're seriously considering not doing one next year, but that's not been decided.”

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Peggy Varberg, Associate Vice President for Human Resources, at UND. (submitted photo)

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

Desk: 701-780-1110
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