As a graduate student and self-professed “researcher,” I feel obligated to say first that I do not have personal empirical evidence regarding municipal human resources practices. However, I recently read the article “Determinants of Local Government Workforce Planning,” by Doug Goodman, P. Edward French, and R Paul Battaglio, Jr. in the American Review of Public Administration, which along with personal experience, inspired writing the following.
Municipal governments need to reevaluate their standing in the job market and think about the necessary talent to make government innovative. While the above statement is generalizing, I acknowledge there are cities better at managing expectations of candidate pools and some who choose to fill positions with younger, enthusiastic individuals. The authors of the above article found municipalities that best manage retirements, early retirements, promotions, recruitment, and retention often share one thing: they have a workforce plan.
Workforce planning is one adaptation some cities have made over the last decade to meet the changing financial landscape. When home values shrunk so did municipal revenue. When municipal revenue shrunk, governments had to lay off employees and meet the needs of cities with fewer personnel. Those serving the longest had the experience to justify continued employment and created the culture to back the justification.
To clarify, I do not find anything wrong with keeping loyal and experience staff. The current issue I take aim at derives from the way cities are going about determining the qualifications to fill vacancies. When government human resources departments are objective with specific non-performance quantifiable credentials, specifically years of service, it reduces the supply of qualified candidates and necessitates salary increases.
Traditionally, the public sector attracted talent from the for-profit sector by luring top candidates with benefits, pensions, and other post-employment benefits. Today, the story is different, and those non-wage appeals the private sector once could not compete against are now closer to equal between the sectors.
At the same time, the credentials of current employees are viewed as “necessary” to complete the functions of the job. Note, holding the above view as true is a fallacy – denying the antecedent (If A then B; not A, therefore not B). The danger is an otherwise ideal candidate is unintentionally excluded from consideration because the basis of comparison is the current employee rather than the competencies related to the position duties.
This brings us back to the workforce planning I charge municipalities must identify as necessary. Additionally, when governments compare themselves to other similarly sized governments, they need to create their own equivalent principle of conservatism.
In other terms, when comparing sizes of government, if a city wishes to compare itself to a similar or larger sized entity, reconsider or consider accounting down for differences. Municipalities must also recognize individuals with a bachelor’s degree, specifically majoring in a field like public administration or equivalent, who wish to make a career as a local government decision maker.
One of the conclusions made by Goodman, French, and Battaglio, Jr. regarded the unfortunate paradox between difficult economic times and first wave cuts to training and development. As retires plan their departure, the opportunity exists to connect youthful, fervent individuals with the experience and wisdom of employees in transition.
If municipal human resource departments are in the practice of taking advice from graduate students, consider the following suggestions. When reevaluating job descriptions, consider the necessary qualifications for performing the job duties not necessarily the qualifications of the individual currently employed in the position.
Pay particularly attention to this with regard to years of experience and education attainment. If using similarly sized cities, consider a public sector equivalent principle of conservatism. Recognize undergraduates who studied public administration or equivalent and who find value in public service.
More importantly, acknowledge those recent graduates’ accomplishments! Remember to consider the pool of applicants for each job and the talent within the city. If the position is valuable and needs filling but candidates meeting the highest standards are not applying, be willing to reduce position qualifications and take a “risk” on a talented, optimistic applicant, or be willing to pay more in salaries.