Cities and States Experiment With New Ways to Attract and Keep Talent

San Francisco City Hall.

San Francisco City Hall. shutterstock


Connecting state and local government leaders

A new report looks at how states and localities are harnessing their “brands” and reworking benefits to bolster their workforces.

Human resources departments for some state and local governments are trying to get savvier attracting and retaining employees.

The shift comes as workforce dynamics change and competition for professional talent is on the rise. It’s highlighted by research released Monday by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence and Kronos, a firm specializing in workforce-related services.

State and local HR officials in recent years have put an emphasis on connecting with younger and more diverse workers, the report suggests. These efforts have involved public sector employers cultivating strong “brands,” increasing flexibility with benefits, streamlining hiring processes, and adding opportunities to help people move to new and higher-level positions within organizations.

Denver is one example. The unemployment rate in the city's metro area was 2.9 percent in July, roughly a percentage point lower than the national rate at the time, and a sign of the tight labor market the government there faces when hiring. But Denver has seen job applicants increase by 10 percent, the report says, after launching an advertising campaign with the slogan, “Be a part of the city you love.”

An advertisement for a 2017 Denver government career fair. (City and County of Denver)

As part of its effort to build a talent “pipeline,” San Francisco runs a fellows program to recruit recent college graduates, targeting graduates from historically black colleges and other groups. The municipality has also looked to job candidates with disabilities, the report says, noting that California has a program to pay for equipment people who are disabled need to do their jobs.

Devoting more attention to employee feedback is another trend that the report identifies. Michigan has conducted employee surveys every 18 months since 2002. In response, the state established programs focused on leadership development and recognizing new employees.

Another program in Denver offers current employees who unsuccessfully apply for new jobs in the government a "development report," and expert feedback, to gain insight into why they were not chosen for the positions they applied for.

San Antonio, meanwhile, identified its civil service exam as a barrier to upping the number of applicants for law enforcement jobs. The city bargained with the local police union so people could take the test individually online, rather than in a group.

After determining paid time off was a high priority for workers, the Texas city began offering 24 hours of added paid leave that employees can use for specific reasons, such as participating in their children’s school activities, volunteering, or enrolling in education programs.

And Johnson County, Kansas is implementing a new compensation program that will allow employees to swap merit pay increases for other benefits, like more paid time off.

The report estimates overall local government employment is slated to increase 7.4 percent during the 2016 to 2026 timeframe, while the same figure for state government is 3.8 percent.

At the local level, some of the job categories with the largest anticipated gains include heavy vehicle maintenance, planning, and subway and streetcar operations. Light vehicle mechanics and various clerk and secretary positions are among those projected to decline.

For state governments, positions involving software development are expected to increase, while correctional officer jobs, along with first-line supervisor, administrative staff and customer service posts are among those where declines are predicted.

A full copy of the report can be found here. The Center for State and Local Government Excellence is holding a webinar to discuss the findings on Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 1 p.m. eastern.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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