Female employee looking in window while taking break from computer work

In the last few years, workforce dynamics have been flipped on their heads. Not long ago, employers held all the cards in the hiring process, with a solid hold on compensation, benefits and determining how and where employees did their jobs — all with the understanding they had their pick of qualified job candidates. That’s no longer the case. Employees are now able to demand higher salaries, better compensation packages and flexibility in where and when they work. And if they are not satisfied with how their employer is accommodating their needs, they can quickly find another opportunity. 

The private sector has grown accustomed to younger employees staying only three to five years, but the movement has now hit the public sector where employees, more often than not, previously spent their entire careers. This development is affecting a sector that has always had it a little tougher in the hiring process compared with the corporate world which usually offers higher salaries and more opportunities for advancement.  

Another challenge is the “silver tsunami,” or masses of baby boomers retiring at unsustainable rates. Since 2011, about 10,000 people reach the age of retirement every day, a trend that will continue until 2030. While it doesn’t necessarily mean they will leave the workforce, it means they have the option to do so. 

Recently, Baker Tilly hosted a webinar, How to win in a competitive workforce environment, in which professionals Patty Heminover, director; Ben Hart, director; and Allison LeMay, manager, discussed how organizations can not only better attract and retain employees, but also become more creative in how employees are working for them.

The “great resignation,” or the “big quit,” saw more than 50 million people quit their jobs in 2022 for a variety of reasons, but among the leading ones were wages, child care issues, limited opportunities for career advancement, lack of benefits and inadequate flexibility, Heminover said. 

Additionally, the abovementioned silver tsunami is translating into the possibility of losing large swathes of people with deep institutional knowledge. On top of that, between 2000 and 2019, participation in the workforce among 16- to 24-year-olds dropped 10%, attributed to more of that age group pursuing education than employment, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center report. 

Simultaneously, we have four generations of employees working together now (i.e., baby boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z). Each has different motivations, skill sets and communication styles, introducing various challenges for employers trying to retain and/or recruit them. 

It is important to understand those differences, though, since identifying what is important to each generation gives an organization the opportunity to have a great workplace, Heminover said. 

Because recruiting leadership positions has become increasingly competitive, many organizations outsource the hiring to recruiting firms.  

If an organization has the budget, the benefits are obvious. Recruiting firms have the experience of proactively recruiting candidates using their large databases/networks of candidates with relevant skills. They can offer a more comprehensive hiring process while absorbing responsibility for finding a replacement if their initial candidate does not work out within a certain amount of time.  

Not every organization can afford that service, though, and instead uses internal resources to pursue new employees.  

If an organization chooses to go that path, there are a few steps it can take to improve its hiring process, regardless of the position, Heminover said.  

First, the organization should simplify its job application. According to a survey from CareerBuilder, 60% of potential employees have quit completing a job application because it was too long or complex. Organizations can increase completion rates by reducing the length of the process to five minutes.  

The second step should be to review the minimum qualifications on the job listing. Sometimes, organizations use the same listing year after year without revising the qualifications to remove anything outdated or unnecessary. 

The third step is to be receptive to applicants with transferable skills who may not have municipal experience. If an organization feels someone will fit well within its ranks, but doesn’t have exactly the right skills, they can offer training to bridge the gap.  

That said, when advertising a position, an organization should amplify its brand, ensure its website is current and provide information in such a way as to appeal to all generations of potential candidates. It should use social media like LinkedIn for outreach in addition to its own employees as referral sources. 

Most importantly, the organization should stay current on compensation and benefits trends if it wants to be competitive. 

When an organization needs to fill a role, it typically has a few options: look to a competing organization, look outside the public sector or hire within the department. These aren’t bad options, but certain things have to align for them to happen.  

With the first option, there has to be a good fit at the competition who is willing to make a move, but the organization will have to offer a better compensation package. For the second, the organization will have to provide training while understanding it will take time to bring that person up to speed on the position as well as the differences between the corporate and government worlds. The third option relies on having the right person with enough experience to replace the outgoing employee. In certain departments, especially smaller ones, that is not always a possibility. 

For some organizations, the key is to consider less traditional options. That may mean hiring back retiring employees as part-time contractors.  

It could also be hiring short-term interim replacements who are contracted for specific functions (e.g., bank reconciliations, budget preparation, monthly reporting and employee mentoring), Hart said. When the work is limited to functions that require certain processes, experienced contractors don’t need training, so organizations see immediate returns at a lower cost while bridging the gap between off-boarding an employee and on-boarding a replacement.  

Strategic workforce planning may help organizations avoid these hiring issues altogether since it doesn’t just look at succession planning for leadership roles but also at roles across the organization’s workforce, LeMay said. 

For the process to work, the organization must ascertain which positions are critical to maintaining operations. It can then identify high-potential employees throughout the organization who can be evaluated for skills and abilities gaps. Using that information, the organization can target them for training and development. Based on their progress throughout the years, the organization should eventually have an internal pool of candidates to pull from before having to look externally. 

While it may not work for every vacancy, LeMay said this type of planning offers organizations an intentional way to dedicate their limited time and resources to build the skills they need in their workforce to preserve business continuity. 

Once implemented, organizations should see several benefits, including: 

  • Alignment of staff planning with strategic goals and priorities 
  • Meaningful training and development opportunities for employees 
  • Foresight to addressing future staffing shortages before they become issues 
  • Identification of gaps between future job requirements and available workforce 
  • Proactive, targeted recruitment efforts and increased employee retention 

Strategic workforce planning allows organizations to analyze and determine potential vacancies within the next five years, using data to look for potential retirements and areas of high turnover. It can help assess whether an organization’s workforce possesses the necessary skills and abilities. If it finds gaps, it can prioritize where the organization should be spending its training dollars to ensure the best return.  

Creating a strategic workforce plan

  • 1. Know your data
  • 2. Conduct a workforce gap analysis
  • 3. Prioritize extremely critical gaps
  • 4. Build the implementation framework

Look at the three-year history of turnover by position, division and department.to discover areas of high turnover (and possibly indicate managerial challenges).Pull an employee census and calculate for each employee to see if they are eligible for retirement (consider division and department). Take into account how long it typically takes to hire certain positions (as some may be harder to fill than others). Also, consider employee engagement surveys and exit/stay interviews.

After potential vacancies and retirements are identified, meet with department leadership to determine if said vacancies will remain positions of need in the future and/or if the function of any role is likely to change given industry trends. Are there positions and skill sets that need to be developed to maintain operations or reach goals and objectives moving forward? 

Once you have an idea, create a list of critical positions that would negatively affect the organization’s ability to operate if vacated. 

Determine which positions are at the highest risk of vacancy (whether from retirement or turnover) then build consensus across the organization of what these critical positions are. They should comprise10%-15% of the organization’s positions.

It should be integrated with human resources operations, prioritizing where training dollars are allocated, focusing on necessary soft skills, using targeted recruitment (directed at certain associations) and working with the organization’s performance management strategy from a dedicated coaching approach.

Patricia Heminover
Benjamin O. Hart
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