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Attracting and Retaining City Workforce

Recruitment and retention of employees is increasingly on the minds of city human resource directors, with cities promoting strong benefit packages and creating incentives as a way to market themselves to potential employees.

Michelle Clyburn, the human resources director for the City of Spartanburg, said job stability, as well as medical and retirement benefits are what often attract people to public sector jobs.

"As other organizations were rolling out high-deductible plans and passing on costs to the employees, we were looking at the root causes of those cost drivers and implementing programs to help contain costs while still offering a competitive benefits package. We designed our health plan to improve access to healthcare for our employees and made it easy for them to get the resources they needed to improve health and manage chronic conditions," Clyburn said.

The situation is similar in Clinton, where Robin Entrekin, director of risk management and human resources, said the city works to sell applicants on a benefit package that is routinely better than what can be found in the private sector.

"It often becomes a choice of high wages or benefits. So, we try to do a cost analysis to show those high wages may not be as attractive when you reduce the take-home pay by having to purchase benefits that are often offered by municipalities free or at a minimal cost to the employee," he said.

Mardi Valentino, recently retired director of human resources and benefits administrator in West Columbia, said her city's decision to pay the employee premium for health and basic dental coverage saves employees nearly $1,200 a year.

"When I onboard new employees most people are amazed at how low their insurance premiums are compared to their previous employers. West Columbia has been able to recruit successfully in the Midlands area because we pay the employee's insurance premium. People are reluctant to leave jobs when their benefits are robust and, dollar-wise, very visible," she said.

Another key to holding onto employees is making sure they know they are appreciated by the residents and city leaders.

"A few years ago, we had a 'One Team' boot camp in which all employees participated," Clyburn said. "The purpose of our 'One Team' initiative is to educate our employees so they can see firsthand how their jobs impact the success of our city and help them understand they all play a vital role in making Spartanburg a great place to live and work. We did walking tours to see our development projects and had members of neighborhoods and businesses come speak and engage with our employees in small group settings."

Police retention
"Typically, turnover has always been higher in the law enforcement industry as a whole, but as the pressure and demands of law enforcement have increased, we have seen attrition rates rise as the economy and job market improves," Clyburn said.

In the pursuit of more work-life balance, the Spartanburg Police Department reworked schedules to allow some officers to work four 10-hour work days, meaning they could have more consecutive days off to rest, decompress and spend time with their families, Clyburn said.

In July 2018, West Columbia revamped its compensation levels for all police positions, from entry-level to lieutenants, to be more competitive with the region's other agencies. City council supported the move as a way to keep and hire quality officers, Valentino said. West Columbia also instituted a $1,500 signing bonus for new recruits and a $500 referral bonus to any employee who successfully recruits a new officer.

Skilled labor retention
Human Resources directors say employees with commercial driver's licenses, properly certified water plant and sewer workers, and skilled trades such as mechanics are among the toughest to retain.

"Water plant operators are becoming a rare breed. I conducted an age analysis on our water plant employees a few years ago and discovered the average age to be around 55 years, which is quite a lot of people at or near retirement age," Valentino said. "Water plant operators provide an extremely important service to residents and businesses, but there seems to be a general lack of awareness, especially among younger generations, of the fulfilling careers available in water plant operations. West Columbia provides entry-level opportunities to 'grow our own' operators."

And then there are the millennials, the young adults born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Clyburn said in Spartanburg, young professionals on average leave after working for the city for two or three years. While pay is important to them, it often isn't the chief motivator. They are looking for work-life balance, flexibility and the chance to do meaningful work.

"Often times, there is a misconception that millennials are lazy, but I don't think that is always the case. They are ambitious and passionate," Clyburn said. "Frontline supervisors need to be mindful of the differences in what motivates this new generation entering the workforce. If managers resist new ideas or technology and are not willing to be flexible, then they will hinder growth and success."

Entrekin said while many millennials are tech-driven, many city government positions are not attractive because they aren't solely technology based.

"Our customers expect police and firefighters to respond to calls; water and sewer systems to be installed, repaired, maintained and work correctly; clean, safe, potable water to drink; customer service reps to take their payments and answer their questions; and trash to be picked up. Those positions do not offer the ability of flex time, work from home, or work from a computer or cellphone," he said. "Although technology does play a role in all those positions, it is still manual labor where the rubber meets the road that gets the job done. Millennials tend to shy away from getting their hands dirty."

Advice for keeping employees
"Stay current with our ever-changing market," Clyburn said. "Celebrate successes both internally and within the community. Listen to the needs of your employees and involve them in the decision-making processes. Increase your digital presence so potential candidates can see the great things your organization is doing to improve your community and hopefully they will want to be a part of it."

"Focus more on benefits and less on salary, particularly those benefits that offer a higher level than your competitors," Valentino said. "Make sure potential applicants know about designated holidays, Christmas bonuses and gift cards, free or reduced gym memberships, employee health fairs, and annual employee luncheons or cook-outs. Promote your municipality as a stable, long-term employer less affected by market swings and economic downturns so prevalent in the private sector. I tell on-boarding employees they now are part of the West Columbia work family and they can have a place with us for many years to come."