State and local governments have reported they are having recruitment and retention challenges. According to a new survey, these agencies are turning toward an unlikely source of labor — the gig economy.
“State and Local Government Workforce: 2018 Data and 10 Year Trends” was conducted by a partnership between the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, the International Public Management Associate for Human Resources and the National Association of State Personnel Executives since 2009. The organizations are looking at various workforce trends in state and local governments to determine what challenges, changes, compensation and benefits they face, according to Gerald Young, senior research associate with the Center for State and Local Government Excellence and report author of the survey.
The online survey reports that the newest challenge is finding and keeping full-time employees for positions such as police officers and firefighters. Of the 337 public human-resource professionals who responded to survey questions, 27 percent reported having recruiting challenges for policing positions and 11 percent for firefighting/emergency medical positions. Although other areas of employment turned to gig workers, police services did not and only 1 percent of firefighting/emergency medical services did, according to Young.
“The exact circumstances behind the 1 percent of agencies meeting at least some portion of the firefighting/emergency medical staffing needs via the gig economy are beyond the scope of the 2018 survey,” said Young in an email statement. “This could represent short-term contracts for a medical director, inspector, or other specialized positions or even paid-on-call firefighters in volunteer fire departments.”
RJ Beam, who has worked in law enforcement for 19 years and previously was a volunteer firefighter in college, said that many of the gig firefighters are used for temporary emergencies – like big woodland fires. Big cities probably won’t turn to gig workers for these positions, but smaller towns might since the number of volunteer firefighters has dropped, according to the Wisconsin police officer.
“Some cities have turned to using part-time paid firefighters to fill the gaps without the cost of a full-time career fire department,” said Beam in an email statement. “As more towns need to shift to paying firefighters part-time, they might need to seek gig workers to fill shifts.”
It seems some federal unions haven’t heard about the increased need for gig workers on a federal level, according to Cheston McGuire from the American Federation of Government Employees.
Other findings show that 82 percent report staff recruitment and retention as a top priority, with employee morale close behind at 80 percent. In a 2012 survey, those concerns were cited by 39 and 67 percent, respectively. According to Young, the low unemployment rate may be one reason why state and local governments are finding difficulties, which is why they are turning to gig workers to help fill these once highly coveted positions.
“The study shows that the competitiveness of the local and state government agencies as they were trying to recruit those employees was diminished compared to the private sector ability to retain those talented individuals,” said Young regarding why government jobs aren’t as desirable to employees anymore.
Private sectors are more successful in retaining their employees because they have more control over benefits and salary changes, according to Young.
“If the private sector finds that the low unemployment rate is a challenge for them they can offer perhaps a higher salary to entice people to come and work for them,” said Young. “Within the public sector that’s typically more of a political issue that has to be approved by the elected body, and it’s very difficult to have flexibility in compensation when something is adopted as part of an annual budget or maybe a biannual budget in some cases.”
Another reason why people may not be seeking a position in a government workplace is because over the last 10 years, many agencies have cut benefits they previously provided, more so to new employees for the amount of co-pay on health and retirement benefits, according to Young.
This is the first year gig economy questions were included in the survey, and the results have brought on more questions for the researchers to explore and see if this change will shift the workforce in any way. “The extent to which the gig economy is a factor” and the impact it’s made, such as looking into the “nature” of the changes at some of the firefighting agencies is something that will be looked into.
“Is it impacting morale among the other employees within the workforce? Is it impacting productivity or continuity of staffing?” said Young of the questions they have. “And beyond that what impact does it have on the organization financially — are they paying more for the gig economy staff? Are they saving funds?”