Lamont: State workforce in good shape ahead of massive retirements
The long-awaited “silver tsunami” of state employee retirements before July 1 will not have a significant impact on the size of the public sector workforce, members of the public sector said on Wednesday. the administration of Governor Ned Lamont.
A change to state pensioner cost of living benefits, negotiated in 2017, prompted eligible state workers to retire before Friday, which is the start of the new fiscal year. Last week, the state comptroller’s office reported that a total of 3,939 state employees had filed for retirement since the start of this year.
However, at a morning press conference in the lobby of a Hartford building housing state IT offices, Lamont and several of his agency managers largely dismissed the impending cliff of retirement. Thanks to recent hiring efforts, the state’s executive branch workforce now stands at about 31,000, the highest number since 2016, they said.
“The much-talked-about silver tsunami is more like a summer storm than a tsunami,” Lamont said. “We’ll probably end this fiscal year with about the same number of employees as a year ago, about the same number of employees as we had, say, five years ago.”
Over the past year, the state has posted more than 4,000 job openings, reviewed 200,000 applications and hired more than 6,000 new state employees, Human Resources Director Nick Hermes said.
“Typically, the state would hire about 4,000 to 5,000 employees each year. So we blew that this year,” Hermès said.
A few areas of concern
Despite the better-than-expected job numbers, officials identified some agencies as “hot spots,” where additional staff were still needed. Healthcare workers, engineers and licensed IT professionals have proven difficult to retain, Hermes said. Meanwhile, Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Michelle Gilman said the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated staffing at medical facilities across the state.
“The pandemic, unsurprisingly, has also led to burnout within the [health care] industry and the challenges in terms of retention and recruiting,” Gilman said.
Hermes said the recently passed raise and bonus program for state employees gives the administration more flexibility to hire or retain qualified employees with competitive salaries. The plan, negotiated with a coalition of state worker unions, is expected to cost about $1.87 billion over the next four years.
“There has been a specific effort by all parties to increase compensation for our most difficult roles in the state,” Hermès said. “These are competitive jobs, as the governor mentioned, anywhere in the world. We had to look carefully in the mirror and be competitive in this market if we really wanted to hire.
The governor suggested the state reassess some of the qualifications needed to apply for jobs in the state. While it makes sense to require a college degree for some positions, it hampers recruitment for others, he said.
“I think we should think more about skills and less about degrees,” Lamont said. “It opens up the lens and I think it gives more people an opportunity.”
Public sector unions responded to the administration’s press conference with a statement through the Coalition of State Employees’ Bargaining Agents, which alleged that recent retirements had exacerbated gaps in vital state services.
“It’s time for the Lamont administration to get to work urgently to hire Connecticut’s next generation of dedicated public servants,” said Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199NE. “Children at risk and those seeking recovery from the scourges of addiction and mental illness cannot wait. It’s time to expand services and save lives.
Administration officials could not provide numbers Wednesday on how many state employees they would ultimately like to hire, or estimate how many currently vacant positions they plan to leave open. Both were moving targets, they said.
However, the governor said that despite a potential economic recession on the horizon, he does not plan to reduce the state’s workforce.
“Unlike the private sector when there’s a recession you make fewer gadgets, in the public sector if there’s a recession there’s probably more need,” Lamont said, adding that the budget recently adopted was designed to withstand the stresses of a recession.
“I’m doing it for two reasons: to make sure these people know we’re not going to cut services, not to lay off, and (to) let the business community know that we’re not going to raise taxes.” , Lamont said.