Report: State Governments Aren’t Doing Enough to Fix Recruitment Woes

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The number of available state government jobs grew from 2013 to 2017, while applicants for those positions dropped.

State officials recognize the challenges they face in recruiting new employees, but they’re not doing enough to keep from falling further behind the private sector in attracting talent, according to a National Association of State Chief Administrators report released Monday.

The number of state government job postings grew 11 percent between 2013 and 2017 in 27 state agencies, while the number of applicants dropped 24 percent, researchers found. State chief administrators and human resources directors from 33 states, as well as 2,959 job seekers, were surveyed for the report.

With unemployment at historic lows—a national rate of 3.8 percent in February and much lower rates in many states—42 percent of state chief administrators and HR directors said attracting new employees was their biggest workforce management challenge.

State government recruiters are also needing to attract new talent at a time when the traditional benefits of government work—like a secure pension in retirement—aren’t as clearly available in all states, the report notes.

But when asked what they’re doing to reshape recruiting, “states aren’t as far along,” said Jamie Rodgers, deputy director of NASCA.

“If government legislators and chief administrators don’t take action, they’re going to fall pretty far behind,” Rodgers told Route Fifty. “And it’s going to be pretty costly.”

Reshaping recruiting includes modernizing job descriptions, investing in training to develop employees, and selling them on the interesting and varied work where they can make meaningful contributions, the report says.

State governments can differentiate themselves from the private sector with their willingness to invest in training, as only 17 percent of private sector respondents reported doing so compared to 31 percent of state government leaders.

“States have not had to traditionally build a brand around recruiting,” Rodgers said.

Millennials report less interest in straight-line career progression, but state governments are well-positioned to offer diverse roles across different agencies. Highlighting a possible transition from state parks director to director of state government affairs is just one example, Rodgers said.

A survey of public sector applicants as part of the report found 61 percent of respondents sought job security, 58 percent strong benefits, 51 percent meaningful work, and 47 percent to serve their community.

The California Department of General Services created an in-house recruitment team to identify the harder-to-distill job classifications and come up with strategies for those divisions.

“We are never going to be able to compete on the basis of salary with the private sector, nor should we,” said Dan Kim, director of DGS. “We can really convey a sense of mission. No one joins the Navy SEALs or the Peace Corps because they pay well.”

Construction staff project directors are critical to running California government projects but highly sought after, so the government sells them on the opportunity to erect zero-energy buildings no one else is developing, Kim said.

Better work-life balance, the chance to influence state policy and the ability to climb the career ladder quickly due to vacancies are other public sector selling points, Kim said.

DGS’ annual organizational health survey found a quarter of its staff had been in their positions for less than three years and that the average age of the department was over 50.

“At some key positions we’re seeing significant churn,” Kim said.

School design construction positions are being hired “at a really fast clip,” he said, while procurement vacancies are opening due to a combination of retirements and promotions to other departments, “which is a good thing.”

Accounting jobs also go through constant churn, Kim added, while information and construction jobs are seeing interest from mid-career professionals looking to jump from the private sector.

Attracting and retaining skilled talent requires “greater levels of employee engagement,” Kim said.

NASCA’s second overarching recommendation is to transform employees’ experience starting with streamlining “clunky” state government job searches, Rodgers said.

Reducing the application process to under five minutes leads to a 365-percent increase in conversion rates, according to the report, and only 50 percent of respondents reported hiring within the first 46 days. Half of states take 81 to 120 days to hire, which means a “greater possibility of losing that high-quality talent,” Rodgers said.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol remapped its entire application process using the Kaizen method because it was taking too long, costs were growing, and applicants were ghosting scheduled interviews and testing in Columbus. In decreasing the process from 181 days to 61, the cost per candidate was reduced $762 for an annual savings of about $433,000, according to the report.

CalHR reduced the number of distinct job classifications, which numbered in the thousands, in California government. DGS has about 190 classifications from janitors  to electrical engineers, Kim said.

In 2017, DGS reviewed its approval process and found its 89 steps took six months to complete, so it reduced the number of steps to 14. Now hiring takes two months.

“Oftentimes we would make an offer, and they’d say, ‘Sorry, we took another position,’” Kim said.

California also created a secure e-file portal for the Office of Administrative hearings to simplify case documentation, decreasing processing times 60 percent through automation.

Another portal will automate the non-competitively bid contracting process, coupled with DGS-led e-signature efforts to process approvals faster electronically.

“Not only is it increasing the speed with which we do approvals, but there’s greater transparency and accountability,” Kim said.

Everyone knows who’s responsible for the next step in the approval process, and that kind of automation is something incoming employees want to see, Rodgers said.

Only 15 percent of state chief administrators reported using their performance evaluations to recognize high-performers—a missed opportunity, according to the report. Meanwhile, 73 percent of those same respondents said their state lacks a plan to transfer institutional knowledge from Baby Boomers nearing retirement.

“That succession planning benchmark needs to improve,” said Sarah Razor, executive director of NASCA.

NASCA collaborated with Dublin, Ireland-based consulting firm Accenture, HR software company NEOGOV, and the National Association of State Personnel Executives in its research.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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