Fort Worth City Council approved a $700,000 increase to its 2022 temporary staffing contract, bringing the total amount the city is spending on temporary workers to $3.5 million annually.
The city has seen a marked increase in the need for those workers within the last year. In 2021, 10% of workers resigned, a jump from 6.4% the year prior. The total turnover rate, including firings, retirements and resignations, reached 15.6%.
Using staffing agencies presents a ‘relatively fast and flexible solution’ to the issue of understaffing, Nathan Gregory, deputy director of human resources, said.
Far from being an outlier, Fort Worth’s staffing woes are emblematic of a national problem in light of the “Great Resignation” during the COVID-19 pandemic. A report from the MissionSquare Research Institute found a little more than half of state and local government workers considered leaving their jobs in 2021.
“The Great Resignation is real,” Human Resources Director Dianna Giordano said. “Many, many employers, in the local area as well as nationally, are dealing with the Great Resignation, and I think a lot of it is just post-pandemic life changes that impact us as an employer.”
The top three reasons for local government workers leaving their jobs were added stress due to the pandemic, concern about safety and rethinking what they’d like to do with their career, according to MissionSquare’s report. Public-facing jobs, in particular, had added stressors while dealing with the public during COVID-19, said Gerald Young, a senior research analyst with MissionSquare.
“People are leaving for a variety of reasons,” Giordano said. “Some of them are retirement eligible employees. Others are deciding to pursue jobs that are fully remote opportunities. Others are pursuing jobs that are just closer to their passion and their interests, like completely changing career fields, but then others are going for more money.”
Staffing agencies, employers adjust to changing work landscape
An increase in business for staffing agencies emerged across the board as employers adapt to the changing employment ecosystem, said Colby Waldrop, district branch manager at CornerStone Staffing. CornerStone is one of several staffing agencies currently under contract with the city.
“Since 2015 to 2019 we’ve seen a steady increase in reporting of (local government) positions that are hard to fill,” Young said. “It has not simply been a matter of the pandemic occurring and then positions becoming difficult to fill.”
Multiple factors are affecting recruitment right now, Waldrop said, including things as simple as how an employer handled the issue of COVID-19 vaccinations. Traditional concerns over pay equity and schedule flexibility remain as well.
In Fort Worth, turnover has consistently risen since 2015, dipping only in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. Competing in a metroplex with a wealth of job opportunities has made the city’s task of recruiting all the more challenging. Public sector jobs are often unable to match higher salaries offered by private companies.
The city’s human resources department recently started employing what it calls ‘stay interviews’ with current employees. In those interviews, employees are given a chance to explain what drew them to the public sector, what they enjoy about their job, and what opportunities they would like to receive more of.
“Because exit interviews are a great tool to understand why people have left, but at that point it’s too late,” she said. “They’ve already left the organization or they’ve already made the decision to leave the organization… So we just started doing those (stay interviews) as a strategy to make sure that we don’t lose our current talent.”
2020 bucked the turnover trend in part because of a lack of knowledge about how COVID-19 would impact long-term employment opportunities.
“People stayed put (in 2020),” Giordano said. “There was a lot of unknown and uncertainty about what the impact of COVID would have on the employee, on the economy and just kind of all of those different factors that factor into somebody making career changes. It was the following year where we started to see the effects of it.”
Increased competition from the private and non-profit sectors has also negatively impacted local governments’ ability to recruit and retain workers, Young said. Engineers, information technology specialists, and those with commercial drivers licenses are particularly likely to receive larger offers from the private sector.
“Local governments are competitive in benefits, but not necessarily in wages,” he said. “It’s an area that can be adjusted, but in a more limited capacity in the public sector.”
Job fair, temp to full-time hiring process offer dual solutions
To recoup lost employees, the city has planned a hiring fair June 25 called “It’s Well Worth It Job Fair 2022.” The fair, which will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Como Community Center, aims to connect job seekers with open positions across multiple departments.
A variety of jobs are available in local government that people might not know about initially, Giordano said, including positions with the animal shelter, parks and recreation and forward-facing community engagement work.
“You really do get to contribute to the community where you live and work,” she said. “You really get to see the fruits of your labor, you really get to see how it impacts the community and the local impact on building a stronger community and a more livable community.”
Temporary staffing can also lead to more full-time staff, Waldrop said. The bulk of CornerStone’s work comes in the form of temporary-to-hire services, which match a prospective employee with a client, have them work with the client for several months, and then decide if a full-time position there would make sense.
“And that’s a good opportunity for both sides to make sure it’s a good fit before they make that commitment to bring them on to their full benefits package and commit to the long term opportunity,” he said.
The employment landscape is unlikely to bounce back within the near future, but Young said the problems local governments, like Fort Worth, are having right now can be seen as an opportunity to evolve and grow how they target prospective employees.
“Reaching out on social media, working with colleges and programs that might have interns, even before they’re ready for a job, to make sure they know you exist,” he said.
Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.
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