Marin County struggles to recruit and retain employees

Like many local businesses, Marin County is struggling to recruit and retain the employees it needs.

In June, three of the county’s top officials — Deputy County Administrator Angela Nicholson, Budget Director Bret Uppendahl, and Ken Shapiro, chief operating officer and deputy director of the Department of Health and Human Services — all announced their departure.

Nicholson had served as the county’s personnel director since the resignation of former director Mary Hao in March. None of these employees was of retirement age.

As of April 15, the most recent date for which the personnel department provided data, 14.1% of the county’s 2,437 full-time budgeted positions were unfilled.

At a budget workshop in March, Marin supervisors decided to identify recruitment and retention as one of the county’s top priorities, along with addressing homelessness, promoting racial equity, disaster preparedness, investment in county infrastructure and the fight against climate change.

Supervisors received a report on the county’s high vacancy rate and steps being taken to improve the situation on June 20 during public hearings on the 2022-23 budget.

“All counties know this thematic point around the big resignation,” County Administrator Matthew Hymel told supervisors at the time. “This is a top priority for our County team over the next two years. We recognize that the foundation to being able to deliver on our priorities is having talented and dedicated employees.

Other Bay Area counties are seeing similar employee vacancy rates. Santa Clara County has a rate of 14.7%. San Mateo County has a rate of 14%. In Contra Costa County, the vacancy rate is 13% and in Sonoma County, it is 11.79%.

Vacancy rates for some departments in Marin County are well over 14%. As of April 15, 10 departments had rates of 15% or more.

The Marin County Department of Cultural Services had a vacancy rate of 54.5%; Marin County Child Support Services, 26.9%; Human resources, 18.8%; the county administrator’s office, 18%; the Community Development Agency, 17%; and information services and technology, 16.7%.

The Department of Health and Human Services had a vacancy rate of 15.5%, accounting for more than a third of the county’s 343 vacant positions.

The Department of Public Works had the second highest number of vacancies, 42 of 252 budgeted positions.

“We currently have 10 unfilled civil engineering positions in our department,” Public Works Director Rosemarie Gaglione said Friday.

Gaglione said many Bay Area government agencies face similar situations.

“It might have something to do with the cost of living in the Bay Area,” she said. “There is a shortage of qualified civil engineers statewide, and they can choose where to go.”

Between July 1, 2021 and April 15, the county hired 179 employees but lost 194, for a net loss of 15.

“It’s important to note that these severances are regular hires only and do not include temporary hires,” county employment analyst Angie Fong told supervisors.

The county hired 245 temporary workers during this period.

Fong cited Bureau of Labor statistics from March that showed there were 11.5 million jobs available in the United States and only 5.5 million unemployed to fill them. Fong said that since the start of 2021, 3% of the country’s working population have left their jobs.

“So what we’re experiencing here in the county is really a national phenomenon,” she said.

Nicholson, who lives in Corte Madera with her husband and two teenage daughters, said she was not leaving because of a grievance.

“I loved the organization. I worked at six different jobs when I was there,” said Nicholson, who joined the county in 2007 as an equal employment officer.

Nicholson said the pandemic served as a catalyst for his decision. For much of that time, she was on call 24 hours a day.

“Over the past couple of years, I’ve been working a lot,” Nicholson said, “so I’ve decided it’s a good time to spend time with my family this summer. I’m going to retool at the fall and figure out what the next step in my career is.

Fong told supervisors a number of changes have already been made to streamline and improve the county’s recruiting process.

“We’ve been really working to try to promote telecommuting and hybrid schedules to departments,” Fong said, “knowing that a lot of our candidates don’t want to come back to the office or are looking for more flexible schedules. We end up losing a lot of quality candidates because of it.

Additionally, Fong said the county began offering employees a $500 bonus if they notify the county of their intention to retire three months in advance and a $1,000 bonus if they give notice. six months notice.

The county also no longer requires managers to get permission to hire a new employee to replace a departing employee before the departing employee leaves, unless the process takes longer than six months.

“Despite all the improvements we’ve made and the work we’ve done to try to speed up the process, there’s more to come,” county personnel analyst Diane Ooms told supervisors.

Managers looking to replace an employee must first complete a hiring review form and have it approved by the county administrator’s office to ensure there is money budgeted for the job. job.

“We’re going to get rid of this,” Ooms said.

In recent years, the county has realized significant savings due to vacancies. During a budget briefing in April, the budget official estimated that the county would save $9.5 million in unfilled budget positions.

Ooms said the county is negotiating with employee unions regarding the possibility of offering a signing and retention bonus for hard-to-fill positions. She said the county is also exploring the possibility of other employee incentives, such as assistance with renting or buying a home.

During public comment following the presentation, Rollie Katz, executive director of the Marin Public Employees Association, told supervisors, “You have to pay people more money. That doesn’t mean it’s the only answer, but it’s part of the answer.

As of 2020, the county’s difficulty retaining employees does not appear to have hindered its efforts to make its workforce more ethnically diverse.

According to the county’s Equity and Diversity Dashboard, between 2013 and 2020, the percentage of Latino employees in the county increased by 83.3% to 19.23% of the total workforce. During the same period, the county’s percentage of black employees increased by 52.48% to 6.73% of the workforce. The county’s percentage of Asian employees increased by 38.27% to 9.79% of the workforce.

During this same period, the county’s percentage of non-Latino white employees increased slightly by 3.3% to 60.18%, from 71.9% in 2013. All ethnicities showed steady growth from 2013 to 2020, except for white employees. The county’s percentage of white employees fell 4.13% in 2019.

As part of the county’s equity initiative, the 2022-23 fiscal year budget approved by supervisors last month included a $350,000 allocation for job training, outreach and other support services. to promote fair access to county jobs, and $200,000 to provide an ombudsman to advise employees. with work problems.

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