Siuslaw News | Reality of workforce recruitment

November 9, 2022 — “This is what employment looks like during the pandemic,” City of Florence human resources director Alex Ferguson said at the Florence City Council meeting on Oct. 17. He updated council and staff on the status of employees of the City of Florence, which includes departments such as Public Works, Florence Police and City Hall.

“Nearly 40% of our employees have less than two years of experience,” he said of the 72 people employed by the city at the time of the meeting.

Since 2020, there have been 32 departures from the city, and while the city has been able to rehire at near full capacity, there has been a “loss of institutional knowledge” in the process.

“I don’t think it’s negative, it’s just the reality of what we’re working with in the pandemic,” Ferguson said. “And that kind of turnaround to be positive. It’s more of a tribute to employees that community members probably didn’t notice at all. It’s just because we have really great staff who are able to pick up those bits – but it’s hard.

The council meeting was an evening of recognition for that, both in the numbers Ferguson provided and in the celebration the city had in acknowledging its employees, from retirees to longtime employees.

“If you haven’t figured it out, it’s not the city council that makes Florence a great place to live, it’s our city staff,” Mayor Joe Henry said.

In the statistics provided by Ferguson, 2020 was the most difficult year for hiring, with 9 departures, but only six recruitments, a net loss of three employees. The year 2021 performed better, with 10 departures and 11 hires, i.e. a net gain of one employee.

But in 2022, “you’ll notice a really big jump,” Ferguson said.

There were a total of 13 separations, completed and planned, throughout the year. However, there were 17 hires in total, a net gain of four.

As for the recruitment process itself, it takes time. From posting a vacancy to day one, the process takes 84 days. Ferguson pointed out that the turnaround time is actually faster than the average recruitment for other governments using the same NeoGov recruitment tool, which sits at 120 days.

“So we’re cutting almost a month off most other agencies that use NeoGov,” Ferguson said.

But there are still problems. Forty percent of candidates the city was looking to schedule an interview for dropped out of the process during the hiring phase.

“That’s kind of the reality of workforce recruiting right now,” Ferguson said.

Overall, the city has made up for the losses that began in 2022, approaching its full complement of 75 total employees. At the time of the meeting, the city still had four vacancies in total, two of which were still being actively recruited at the time of the meeting.

But the overall turnover, 32 separations over a three-year period, “hit every department in the city,” Ferguson said.

While departments that were totally or partially closed during the pandemic like the Florence Events Center recruited five new employees in 2022, Public Works also recruited five employees. Even smaller departments, such as the city manager’s office and community development, each saw two hires in 2022.

“It’s something that we all felt in every department,” Ferguson said. “And keep in mind that a lot of our departments really aren’t that big. So, replacing these two to five people is a lot and it has a big impact on that.

And that also means that nearly 40% of city employees are considered to be still learning their jobs.

Ferguson broke down the effectiveness of each employee in their career.

In the first six months, an employee learns the day-to-day functions within the city and efficiency is low. It’s not until someone has worked for six months to a year that employees start to “get it.”

After one year in the position, employees begin to become effective at their jobs, and after two years they become fully effective.

However, of the 24 employees hired since 2020, only two have fallen into the “full effective” rate. Twelve employees were still in a “day-to-day learning” function, in the first six months of employment. Four employees were “beginning to understand”, while six employees were just beginning to be effective.

Many people who are still in the “effectiveness” rate have learned from people who are no longer with the city, making it difficult for them to turn to the mentors who trained them in the first place.

“Just because of the way things have changed, we’ve lost a lot of institutional knowledge over the last two years,” Ferguson said.

Other new hires are faced with learning their positions from employees who are still not considered “fully effective”.

“These employees are going to have to see and fix the issues the first time around, maybe even on their own, because they’re kind of going through it all,” Ferguson said.

At the same time, the city is still grappling with COVID-19.

“From January of this year through October 1, we had the equivalent of one person a week on COVID-related leave,” Ferguson said.

In addition to this, there were 1.75 full-time equivalent employees absent per week due to protected leave and workers’ compensation.

“So you’re looking at 2.75 employees per week in the city, in addition to 40% of our staff in the first two years. You just need to pause at that point and really let it sink in,” Ferguson said. “Again, I don’t think that’s negative or anything, it’s just the reality of what we’re working with in the pandemic.”

Ultimately, Ferguson thought the city’s employment problems would eventually work themselves out, but it might even last a little longer than that timeframe, “just because we’ve lost a lot of institutional knowledge.”

In the meantime, Florence celebrated the institutional knowledge that still remains in the city.

Before Ferguson delivered his report to council, the city recognized employees who were celebrating milestone birthdays, retiring from the city after long careers, or just starting out with the city.

For current employees, there was Eric Rines, who served 30 years with the city, including 17 in the planning department, for which he was recently promoted. He was celebrated for his “strong work ethic” and his “depth and breadth of knowledge” of the city.

Wendy FarleyCampbell was celebrating her 20th birthday, who was promoted to Director of Planning in 2017, and recently renamed Director of Community Development. During her tenure, she completed two tours of active duty military service with the United States Navy.

Florence police sergeant. Brandon Ott celebrated 15 years of service, first as a Reserve Officer and then full-time as a Code Enforcement Officer.

“He handled a lot of extreme cases that were very unpleasant for us, and very professionally,” said Chief of Police John Pitcher.

Public Work’s Larry Jensen also celebrated his 15th birthday, starting as the city’s first building maintenance worker, and has since expanded to multiple facets of the city, from sewage treatment facilities to the airport maintenance.

Finally, Jake Krieger and Justin Heacock celebrated 10 years of service.

Krieger began as a utility worker assigned to streets, but has since worked providing comprehensive inspections for capital projects, such as sewer extension projects.

Heakock started as a sewage treatment plant operator and then worked his way up to become a senior sewage treatment plant operator.

Yolanda Ross is a retired city worker, who started in 1995 as a 911 dispatcher and worked as a training officer.

“I relied on Yolanda’s experience and leadership to help guide our communications hub,” Pitcher said. “I don’t think I could have done it without her.”

Next is Mark Durbin, who started in 2010 as a facilities worker.

“Mark saw our lean times when he himself maintained our parks seasonally,” said public works manager Mike Miller. “Mark’s experience working in factories and being a high school shop teacher has brought a wealth of knowledge to Public Works.

Finally, there was Dewayne Barkemeyer, who was hired in 2016, with wastewater treatment plant experience in Astoria, California and Colorado.

“Through his experience and leadership, he has moved our facility and operations team from reactive to proactive in operations and maintenance,” Miller said.

As for his experience, Barkemeyer said, “Our public works department is by far the best public works department on the planet.”

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Michael A. Bynum