Princeton expands development options for service employees

by Jennifer Greenstein Altmann

After 10 years of planting trees and maintaining flower beds on Princeton’s campus, Bob Kochis was intrigued by the prospect of learning about positions in other areas of the University. He decided to apply to a Princeton program that places service employees in trade shop positions for the summer.

Kochis, who was a landscaper, got the chance to work in the HVAC shop, which offered him an opportunity to learn the heating, ventilating and air conditioning trade and get to know the people in the shop — all while collecting his usual salary.

Dave Megyesy teaching a communications class
Dave Megyesy, a senior instructor from Mercer County Community College, teaches a communications class.

“I was able to get a taste of what the work was about, and the guys in the shop got to know me and my work ethic,” he said. “I really liked it, and I realized this is what I want to do.”

The summer transfer program is open to staff members represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) who work 10-month or year-round schedules in departments such as athletics, building services, dining services, grounds and building maintenance, housing and University Services. During his time in the program, Kochis spent three summers at the HVAC shop, learning about installation, pipefitting, repair and welding.

“Right away he showed ambition,” said Bob Macfarlan, the HVAC and plumbing supervisor. “He was a quick learner with a great attitude.”

When a permanent position as a worker opened up in the shop a few months ago, Kochis was hired to fill it.

The program that helped Kochis — and a second program that offers language and math assistance — are being expanded this year as the Office of Human Resources focuses on increasing development opportunities for service employees. Next summer the SEIU Summer Transfer Program will add more slots and introduce new types of positions. And the University is beefing up its Excelling at Princeton Program, which offers classes in business math, communication skills and English as a Second Language (ESL).

Ana Mendez
The program has helped Ana Mendez, who works as a janitor at Dillon Gymnasium, improve her English vocabulary and grammar.

“We are offering stepping stools to better positions at Princeton,” said Pierre Joanis, director of labor relations in the Office of Human Resources. “We think of it as a career ladder. Whatever position in which you come to us, we will help you grow here.”

Improving communications skills

For Ana Mendez, who came to the United States from Guatemala and works as a janitor at Dillon Gymnasium, the ESL class in the Excelling at Princeton Program has helped improve her English vocabulary and grammar. Mendez had looked into attending an English class at a local community college, but it was too expensive, she said.

“I want to communicate better with my supervisor, to learn to read and write better,” said Mendez, who has worked at Princeton for four years. “I enjoy the class every time.” She hopes to earn her general equivalency diploma (GED) in English once she has improved her communication and comprehension skills.

The Excelling at Princeton classes, which run for four months, meet twice a week from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. on campus, and employees are given paid leave to attend. The University also pays for course materials.

The program’s math and communications classes, taught by instructors from Mercer County Community College, review math concepts used in a work context and skills such as composing e-mails and other kinds of writing.

“We identified a need in those who want to move up to better jobs at Princeton but lack the skills,” said Robert Martinez, the manager of diversity and inclusion in human resources. “People tell me, ‘I haven’t hit the books in 25 years. I need to learn to write e-mails.’ They want to kickstart that part of the brain.”

There are currently 39 employees enrolled in the program, representing departments including building services, facilities, molecular biology, public safety and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. They also hail from all over the world, with employees from Africa, China, Croatia and Thailand currently taking the classes. All employees are eligible.

Those who complete the Excelling at Princeton Program receive a certificate qualifying them to apply for certain positions in dining services that require a GED. The program, which launched in 2003, has enrolled 124 employees. Recent changes have created wider offerings and a more convenient schedule.

Opening doors

Attuti Stout, who has been in the Excelling at Princeton Program since last February, said the class is helping him with problem solving and writing business letters. Stout, a food service storekeeper who works at the Center for Jewish Life, also has participated in the transfer program, spending several summers working in the electric shop. That arrangement especially helped Stout when he was a 10-month employee.

Bob Kochis
Bob Kochis, who was a landscaper at the University, spent three summers in the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) shop learning about the trade as a participant in Princeton’s SEIU Summer Transfer Program. He now works in the HVAC shop. (Photos by Brian Wilson)

“It made up the two months that I would be off in the summertime, and it opened me up to the whole campus,” he said. “When you’re in one department, you don’t get a chance to see the campus. It opened the doors to see what else Princeton has to offer, and it’s a lot.”

During the summer Stout assisted electricians completing underground wiring for Whitman College and helped clean up temporary electrical installations from Reunions. The experience inspired him to enroll in a program at Mercer County Community College to earn his journeyman’s license, a starting point in a career as an electrician. Stout hopes to land a helper’s position in Princeton’s electric shop in the future.

“I was looking for a career and I think I found it,” he said.

The transfer program will offer slots to 20 employees next summer, up from 15 last year. It also is broadening the program’s appeal to attract more women, who have not applied in great numbers. More detailed job descriptions will be furnished. And positions in areas such as the library and conference and event services will be added to the current slots in carpentry, painting, plumbing, warehousing and similar fields.

“One of our key aims is to increase the number of women who apply, and we hope to do that by providing clear descriptions of positions that women feel are more welcoming to them,” Joanis said. “The goal is to make the program more accessible and appealing to all candidates.”

Orlando Griffiths, who works as a grill cook and pizza maker at Frist Campus Center, enrolled in the transfer program to work in sanitation.

“The guys on the job showed me just about everything I needed to know,” said Griffiths, who has worked in dining services for 15 years.

After his first summer helping with garbage collection, Griffiths decided to take the exam required for driving a sanitation truck. He earned his license, enabling him to get behind the wheel of a truck during his second summer in the program. He’s hoping to participate again this summer.

“I got hands-on experience,” Griffiths said. “That’s a great opportunity.”

Both programs require an application and an interview. For more information, contact Sherry Moore at 258-8682 or regarding the transfer program and Zia Bartley at 258-9149 or regarding the Excelling at Princeton Program.

The Office of Human Resources is ramping up development opportunities for service employees by expanding the Excelling at Princeton Program, which offers classes in business math, communication skills and English as a Second Language.