With Tough to Fill Jobs, Some States and Localities Turn to ‘Gig’ Workers

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A new survey highlights the trend, which can be found in fields ranging from building and grounds maintenance to accounting.

In an era when state and local governments are having a harder time than in years past filling jobs, some are turning to the “gig economy” to meet their labor needs, according to newly released survey results.

The Center for State and Local Government Excellence released the findings from their latest workforce survey on Monday. A total of 335 human resource professionals participated. Most work in state and local government, but a handful are in the federal or nonprofit sectors.

One question asked respondents to estimate what share of their organization's workload was being met with workers from the gig economy—meaning with workers who are hired on a temporary or contingent basis, including independent contractors and consultants.

Of the 308 people who replied to that question 52 said between 1% and 5% of the workload is handled with gig workers. And nine said the share is over 5%.

The survey did not include services contracted on a longer-term or annual basis in the gig category.

Maintenance workers, accountants, building and grounds cleaners, information technology support and office and administrative support staff were among the jobs that the places represented in the survey were most likely to fill with employees who are not permanent. 

This particular finding is based on responses from 196 survey participants. Depending on the field, between 10% and 18% said that their organization was filling these jobs on a gig basis. 

But the same was true for only about 1% of respondents when it came to hiring for police positions, which are also proving to be hard to fill these days. Policing is the field where the highest level—about one-third—of respondents said they had difficulties hiring in the past year.

Other fields where a large share of respondents said they had a hard time filling jobs included: engineering (29%), maintenance and labor (24%), skilled trades (24%), IT network administration (22%), drivers and equipment operators (21%), and accounting (19%).

The survey results highlight a rise between 2015 and 2019 in the portion of respondents who have reported difficulties staffing jobs in some of these fields and others. 

For instance, only 3% of respondents to the survey in 2015 said they were having problems hiring for maintenance, labor and skilled trades jobs. That’s 21 percentage points lower than this year’s results.

In recent years, the U.S. labor market has tightened amid a lengthy economic expansion. The nation’s unemployment rate in June was around 3.7%, down from around 5.3% in June of 2015.

Upwards of 80% of respondents said competitive compensation, recruitment and retention of qualified workers, employee morale, and employee engagement are important workforce issues that their governments’ will be facing moving forward.

SLGE has partnered with the International Public Management Association for Human Resources and the National Association of State Personnel Executives on an annual state and local government workforce study since 2009.

“This survey reveals that recruitment and retention of qualified employees remain significant challenges for state and local governments at a time when the demand for workers is projected to increase,” said Neil Reichenberg, IPMA-HR’s executive director.

“This means that state and local governments must continue to be innovative in order to attract and retain workers who can deliver critical public services,” he added.

The survey was conducted online from late March to early June this year. SLGE will host a webinar on Aug. 14 to further discuss the findings.

A full copy of the report on the survey results can be found here.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.

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