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The poll of state and local HR managers finds that hiring has increased, but so has the number of people quitting.
While state and local governments are making some progress in addressing workforce shortages, high turnover is complicating their efforts, according to a survey of human resources managers.
About 45% of the 249 managers polled in MissionSquare Research Institute’s annual survey said they are seeing more people quit this year than last year. But slightly more than half reported that they are making progress in restoring their workforces to pre-pandemic levels.
That’s better than last year’s survey when only about a third said the size of their workforces had grown.
“We're seeing really good numbers in terms of hiring,” Gerald Young, senior research analyst with the institute, said during an online conversation at the GovExec State and Local Government Tech Summit on Monday. “As the pandemic initially hit, hiring was somewhat put on pause. [But this year] lots of organizations are either bringing people in or attempting to bring people in.”
Most of the respondents to the survey, which was released Thursday, are from local governments. And while they’re making progress, the fact that so many are seeing resignations increase is complicating their efforts to address workforce shortages because in many cases governments are having trouble replacing workers.
“They're not necessarily getting the number of qualified applicants that they really need to fill the positions that they have that are open,” Young said.
The reasons why people are quitting vary, he said. For some, it’s pay, and for others, it’s career advancement and/or stress.
A separate study by MissionSquare, a nonprofit that studies government workforce issues, on the morale of state and local officials in March found that 69% had felt negative about their jobs in the past year. Forty-nine percent said they felt stressed and 47% said they were burned out. Two-thirds said they were considering changing jobs to get better pay or benefits, and about a third said they wanted a job with greater satisfaction or meaning, around the same percentage who said they wanted greater work-life balance.
On top of high turnover, many governments in the survey reported more retirements. Forty-five percent of HR managers said that the same number of people are retiring this year as last year, but more than a third, 36%, said they are seeing retirements increase this year.
Young said that after the Great Recession, older workers were willing to postpone retiring because their savings had taken a hit. But that has not been the case with the pandemic.
“It made sense [for workers] to postpone their retirement to get that nest egg back up to where they wanted it to be,” he said. During the pandemic, though, “they were saying, ‘Nope, this is enough of a disruption.’”
Young continued, “We're still hearing from HR directors that they are anticipating the largest wave of retirements to come in the next few years.”
Employment in the public sector is also still lagging about 1% to 3% behind the private sector, according to Young. About a third of the human resources managers in the survey said that it is taking longer to fill jobs, partly because not enough qualified people are applying.
Given the challenges, many governments are increasing pay and revisiting job requirements, such as changing education requirements.
According to the survey, 62% said they are raising salaries this year. Twenty-nine percent are also giving hiring bonuses for certain kinds of jobs, like public safety and health care, where they are having a particularly hard time finding enough qualified applicants.
Indeed, positions in public safety appear to be among the most difficult to fill. When asked what sorts of jobs they had a hard time filling last year, 78% named policing and 77% mentioned those involving corrections or jails.
In addition, 75% said they’re having a hard time filling nursing jobs, and, at a time when governments are building historic amounts of infrastructure, 73% named engineering, 72% driving or operating equipment and 71% said skilled trades.
“It's definitely across all areas of government,” said Young, acknowledging that, “there are some areas that are more impacted than others. There are not as many applicants for some of those positions and that results in recruitments that need to be reopened because they didn't get enough qualified candidates or just an extended time to hire.”
Many governments, particularly state governments, are no longer requiring college degrees for some jobs. Nearly half, 46%, of state HR managers said they are making the change as they search for more workers, compared to 24% of local government workers.
While they may be lowering educational requirements, Young said, states are also “doing the upskilling once that person is hired. Not only to get them to where they should be for that job, but also as part of a career ladder that really helps them develop and grow with the organization.”
Governments, he said, are also “looking at the job descriptions not only from the standpoint of what might be required in terms of education or experience, but also looking at whether the language that's used in those descriptions is clear enough to the layperson, not so jargon-heavy.”
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty, covering Congress and federal policy. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @Kery_Murakami
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