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Work crew survey sheds light on student attitudes

Gabriel Sistare, staff writer

Last spring, Warren Wilson College conducted two surveys focusing on the College’s work program. Supervisors were asked to complete the survey on March 28, and crew members were asked to complete the survey on April 11.

The data compiled by Don Ray (Educational Assessment), which he displayed at a recent supervisor’s retreat, showed 79 out of 126 supervisors reporting back, and 324 out of 785 student crew members reporting back.
The survey included questions about crew size, tenure, reassignment of work hours and compensation, training, and safety, among other topics.

Questions were asked to either crew supervisors, students, or both. Along with the prescribed answers, supervisors and students were often allowed to elaborate on their answers.

The first question asked was one regarding the effectiveness of crew size. A majority of supervisors considered crew size adequate, though a majority felt that crew tended to be understaffed during the summer time.

Students were asked about their time spent on their crew, and the rate of turnover showed students averaging one crew change annually.

The fifteen hour work week is standard throughout all crews on campus, but the survey showed that a slight majority would appreciate more work hours. A distinct majority requested more hours in crews with eight or more members. Overwhelmingly, the supervisors were not in favor of decreasing work hours on campus.

Symbolizing the egalitarian spirit of the work program, students responded that they would like the 15 hour week to remain the standard distribution of time. Further solidifying this sense of equality, 27% of students elaborated on their answers and said that the issue of keeping the 15 hour work week for all crew is an issue of fairness.

A resounding majority of 60% thought that a pay scale should not be activated, regardless of financial need, academic status, or skill level.

Regarding both crew hours and crew member compensation, students favored the work program policies already in effect.

Both supervisors and students were asked if the size of the crew altered the effectiveness of training. Larger crews, often requiring specialized training, have the luxury of training sessions offered by external groups, ultimately taking strain off of the individual supervisors.

Overwhelmingly, the students believed that they were afforded the same learning opportunities as their fellow crew members, and the supervisors thought that their crews were adequately equipped to perform the tasks that were asked of them.

Though there was no majority identifying that safety was compromised, the percentage of those that felt safety was compromised increased as the crew sizes increased. This seems to be rather obvious as those larger crews typically operate tools and equipment that pose a potential threat to safety. Students responded that, when they identified a safety concern, they adequately coped with the situation.

Regarding the treatment of crews on campus, the supervisors were asked where they found the most support from on campus. A dramatic 90% of those responding to the survey thought that the Work Program Office offered powerful support to the crews on campus. Interestingly, when asked about the reception of support from the campus administration, those that responded thought that they offered more moderate support, and around 50% of those responding thought that the faculty offered fair to poor support of the work crews.

Highlighting the work program as a key component to Warren Wilson, around 70-90% of Supervisors and Students found the work program to be educational, effective, and integral to campus life. Only 2-20% of those responding had critical views of the work program, with a mere 4% of students believing the work program is no longer necessary.

Recognition of exceptional crew members had 80-85% majority approval from both supervisors and students, with most of those individuals responding suggesting priority for break contracts as the primary form of recognition for those crew members who stand out. Along with contract priority, a 30% minority of students suggested higher wages, but the supervisors had a larger percentage of 55% requesting greater compensation as praise for exceptional qualities.

Resounding majorities from both the students and supervisors felt that the work program benefited students financially, educationally and vocationally. Also, a majority of students and supervisors felt that the work program fosters the importance of serving others, respect for the dignity of labor, and a positive work ethic.

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