Hiring, Retention Challenges Highlighted in Latest State and Local Government Workforce Survey

Findings from a 2021 survey of IPMA-HR and National Association of State Personnel Executives members identified growing challenges and emerging solutions for ensuring public sector organizations find and keep the employees they need.

Source: SLGE

On one hand, more than half of respondents indicated they were having difficulties filling positions in health care, corrections, policing, skilled trades and engineering. At the same time, an increasing willingness to allow remote work and flex-time, as well as the long-term commitment to highly competitive benefits, keeps agencies in the game when it comes to hiring and retaining skilled workers.

The Center for State and Local Government Excellence at ICMA-RC collected online responses to their latest annual workforce survey from Feb. 25 to April 6. The full report is available to download for free.

The lead author, Gerald Young, summarized this year’s findings by saying, “Overall, the data shows that recruiting and retaining workers is only getting harder at a time when the pandemic is accelerating retirement. On the upside, we are seeing increased telework and other flexible scheduling arrangements. This can help with employee recruitment and retention for employers who cannot offer higher salaries.”

Jurisdictions with fewer than 500 employees are experiencing particular difficulties with recruiting firefighters and law enforcement personnel. All agencies are finding it tough to fill open nursing and IT positions.

Recent and expected retirements also loom large as staffing concerns. The public sector employs a large number of baby boomers, which in part accounts for the finding that the greatest percentage of “retirement-eligible employees are accelerating their retirement plans … since the survey began in 2009.”

Some good news emerging from 2020 involves a determination to avoid furloughs, layoffs and pay cuts. Each were used widely immediately following the Great Recession. Last year saw fewer than 20 percent of agencies resorting to furloughs and layoffs as budgets tightened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Hiring freezes spiked, however.

For current employees, 60 percent of survey respondents rated compensation as competitive with other employers in their market. “By comparison,” the report notes, “with pensions still much more prevalent among public agencies than private, 92 percent rate their benefits as competitive.”

The large majority of public sector HR professionals (76 percent) acknowledged recruiting must be a priority, and more than half (57 percent) also indicated greater efforts must be put into workforce planning.

Because the survey was fielded during the pandemic, respondents were asked for the first time whether mental health in the workplace should be a priority. Sixty-one percent of HR professionals agreed that it should.

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