The city begins a major employee recruitment campaign

Tuesday January 31st, 2023 by Jo Clifton

The city of Austin announced Monday that it will launch a major campaign this week to promote hard-to-fill jobs. Labor shortages have been particularly noticeable within the Austin-Travis County EMS and police department.

According to information provided by Deborah Jennings in the human resources department, the city currently has 16,316 employees, up from 16,352 in January 2020. an overall loss of 36 employees. This number does not reflect the problems created by vacancies in some departments compared to others or the drop in employees the city suffered in 2021.

The city’s press release touts the citywide hiring drive, spearheaded by the human resources and communications office, as the “largest in city history.” It will run for six months starting February 1 and will include “print, digital, social media, radio, billboards, buses and more to ensure wide reach and recognition”.

According to the statement, in September the city “raised the starting salary for EMTs and paramedics” and “lowered the minimum entry qualifications for its field cadet positions.” The city has also increased its cadet academies from two or three per year to four per year, which “has helped reduce vacancies by at least 60 positions since October 2022, with 70 to 80 additional hires expected by December 2023”.

Current vacancies in EMS, City of Austin.

Selena Xie, president of the EMS employees’ union, told the austin monitor it’s still not enough. Xie said by text message that the situation had gotten worse, not improved. “We only have nine paramedics in the lateral hiring class. We probably could have taken up to 30.”

She provided a chart showing that out of 665 authorized personnel, there are 150 vacancies among sworn personnel, 47 vacancies within the EMT field medic position and 201 currently working.

Captain Darren Noak of the EMS Communications Division confirmed the figures. He noted that a new class had just started on Monday with 33 cadets. He said nine of them are lateral transfers, meaning they will be ready to work sooner than those without prior training or fieldwork. He said the number of vacancies for clinical specialists fell to 83 from 101 a month ago.

The city reported that between September 25, 2022 and January 14, 2023, the number of citywide vacancies dropped 7% from 2,755 to 2,554, the number of vacancies for sworn public safety employees dropping 8% over the same period.

“While we have made progress in staffing positions over the past few months, we know there is still work to be done,” City Manager Spencer Cronk said. “As departments step up their efforts to fill vacancies and our new citywide hiring campaign is ready to roll, we will continue to do everything we can to recruit and retain talented people. to provide the services our community has come to expect.”

The press release pointed out that Austin invested heavily in its workforce during the budget process last summer, including “a 4% overall salary increase for civilian staff – the largest increase in more than two decades – as well as a 33 percent increase in the minimum wage. The city council lobbied for the minimum wage of $20 an hour.

According to the city, the wage increase that began in October “has already resulted in a higher volume of applications and more hiring in many departments. However, the city is launching the new jobs campaign in recognition of the likelihood that vacancy rates will remain a challenge for the rest of the year.

Higher wages for new hires have not been universally popular, as some long-serving municipal workers see new hires earning almost as much as they do, due to the squeeze.

While Carol Guthrie, executive director of AFSCME Local 1624, the union representing city, state and county employees, agreed that the city needs a strong organizing program, ” at the same time, I think the city of Austin is losing a very valuable historical perspective that we’ll never get back because we’re not doing anything to keep the long-term employees who are essential to the running of the city, Guthrie said.

While some departments may have good retention plans, Guthrie said, it’s unclear what those are and what the city as a whole is doing to hold on to longtime employees with historical knowledge of how to get things done in the city.

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