Town’s Cost Cutting and Low Wages Hurting Recruitment and Staff Retention
In a report from the CAO to Council, it seems that the town is having trouble attracting qualified candidates to fill the many vacancies and the service levels are suffering. This council has fired (or retired) more long-term experienced and dedicated staff than any before it. The culling demanded by the non-elected lobby group, we’ve dubbed MidlandCutMunity.ca clearly has had an impact on our community. Now the chickens have come home to roost.
The report reads, “The Town of Midland has been undergoing a number of organizational changes for the past several years. Some of the changes have clearly impacted the Town’s ability to deliver services both internally as well as externally. It is not uncommon for every organization to periodically undergo periods of time when their ability to execute in the delivery of their services becomes impaired. Management’s role is to make appropriate adjustment to minimize those impacts if and when the time arises. It is also incumbent upon management to identify the root causes of those situations where an organization is chronically impaired and prevented from performing at the level of optimal performance.
The purpose of this report is to provide Council with some insight into some of the current operational challenges which we are facing in our ability to deliver timely, reliable, quality customer service. Recently, your Administration made a presentation to the Human Resources Committee with an overview of the current recruitment paradigm for the Corporation of the Town of Midland. The details of the presentation and information are largely summarized within the analysis section of this report.
For the first six month period of 2017, we have launched 9 recruitment campaigns (excluding seasonal staff and students). Our three-year annual recruitment average is 7 recruitments. Given the number of times we have been in the recruitment marketspace, we are starting to identify issues related to our ability to attract qualified candidates, retain existing skilled staff and also provide opportunities for staff development. Our ability to attract numbers of candidates interested in the various roles has not been the problem. In many cases we are receiving a very healthy response. What we are finding is that the difficultly rests with our ability to attract the required skillsets for candidates to step into the roles at a level that ensures they are contributing in a productive manner is short order. In a number of cases we are clearly not attracting candidates with the “municipal experience” factor.
For certain positions, the municipal experience is an important component. That insight helps to ensure a much smoother transition for the employee as well as helping to raise the performance bar for the organization. An individual with prior municipal experience will sooner identify opportunities for improvement or simply challenge the “status quo” on the basis of transferable knowledge and experience. When we look at the reasons why we are not attracting that level of municipal experience, we can point to several factors; however, the rudimentary one suggests the lack of competitiveness in the area of compensation. Our preliminary compensation comparison suggests that we have shifted into a position of being non-competitive with our immediate neighbouring municipalities; which causes two fundamental problems – the challenge to “retention” and secondly the problem of “attraction”. Several recruitment efforts of late have highlighted our struggles. Council can see the implications of the market competitiveness reflected in the accompanying graphs provided for your consideration.
Engineering Department Changes
In 2017, the functional alignment of the Engineering Department changed with the added responsibilities for water and wastewater operations. The other responsibilities include: engineering, asset management, energy management and development engineering. The Director’s role was vacant for four months this year and the Engineering Technologist’s position was vacated in April. The recruitment for the Engineering Technologist is still ongoing. The first attempts to recruit for the position unfortunately were not successful and we are now headed into a second recruitment effort. Expectations are that we will not likely fill the position before mid-August. As there are only the two engineering positions, this reduction in staffing has impacted the planned workload for 2017. We note that the staffing shortage will impact a number of initiatives. Activities that will need to be rescheduled or contracted out include traffic calming policies, community energy planning, development standards update and development engineering reviews. Where practical and necessary, it would be the objective of the Director to retain external services to meet departmental service needs. Efforts to address/contain those costs within existing corporate budgets will be a primary consideration. The following graphic reflects the market competitiveness of our Engineering Technologist position against many of our municipal comparators:
Planning and Building Services Department
The Planning and Building Services Department started the calendar year off with an ambitious work plan. The 2017 calendar year assumed, as it should, that there would be a full staff compliment in both divisions. As Council is aware, the Town’s Senior Planner position has been vacant since April 21st. Unfortunately, we have not been able to secure the services of a senior level planner. While the Department has been able to recruit a highly qualified candidate into a more junior planner role, we were quick to discover that the pool of qualified senior planners were not attracted to the Town of Midland in large part due to the nature of the market compensation for persons with the requisite qualifications. Proceeding with the Planner position is seen as a compromise solution. We recognize that the question of compensation will not be addressed in any short term solution and the growing workload demands immediate action. Council should note that not filling the Senior Planner position will have an impact on the capacity and productivity of the Division and impact the Work Plan for 2017.
Administration will be reviewing all of the files in an effort to determine if outsourcing certain projects will be a feasible alternative that allows the Town to continue to advance work to meet commitments and service level expectations. With the arrival of the new Planner in the coming weeks, your administration will have a better opportunity to re-evaluate which projects may need to be considered for possible external consulting support. It is the intention of Administration to bring additional reports to Council in respect of the Official Plan Review and the approved Engagement and Consultation Strategy, how both will be impacted by the change in staffing compliments, and potential impacts on costs and timing. The impacts of the new Growth Plan 2017 on the OPR will also be assessed as part of this report.
The following graphic reflects the market competitiveness of our Planning positions against many of our comparators:
Finance Department Challenges
The changes in this department since 2015 have been previously detailed. Effective June 12, 2017, the department returned to a fully staffed complement (a situation not seen for some time) but challenges remain. The position of Director of Finance was filled in September 2016 after a four month vacancy. The position of Deputy Treasurer was ended in early 2015 and only partially filled on an interim basis with contract assistance. We re-filled the position in January 2017. Both of the recent recruits to the senior level roles fully met the hiring criteria. Unfortunately, the department has not been so fortunate with some of the other related positions. The Town experienced four different payroll clerks through 2016. The current incumbent came on board in November 2016. The repercussions from that degree of instability continue to be felt from a workload perspective.
The position of Senior Accounting Clerk (a revised position description which fills the role of the Treasury Assistant and had been vacant for three months), was filled on June 12th. The need to proceed with the filling of positions has in certain instances resulted in “under-filling” (settling for candidates who may not have 100% of the job qualifications and criteria but have demonstrated initiative, behavioral indicators to provide a measure of confidence that they can perform to a reasonable level of expectation. Clearly the delay that would result from repeating the call for applications and the uncertainty of securing a fully qualified candidate becomes a key factor in moving ahead with hiring decisions. The trade-off then becomes the required investment in training and development. The training has in fact been identified and has been scheduled to bolster the likelihood of success.
The cost are anticipated to exceed the departmental training allocation approved in Budget 2017, however the need to fill the roles and advance the work of the department and the corporation are a reasonable tradeoff. Training in general for existing staff has been reduced and/or eliminated in recent years, for the most part as targets of our cost containment efforts. Without the training budgets, and the ability to ensure that the skills required meeting the ever changing regulatory direction, there remains a risk that we could potentially become non- compliant in our mandates with senior levels of government.
Operation Department Challenges
The challenge of hiring skilled staff has been recurring in this department in the last 3 plus years. Seasonal Staff (Winter Staff): We have had issues hiring qualified staff in part because we do not guarantee hours in the winter while our surround municipalities and private contractors do guarantee a minimum of 27 hours per week, but equally important, is the fact that our compensation levels are not competitive for qualified, licensed drivers.
Training aside, there is also a cost to managing, coaching and overseeing the staff, especially when we recruit talent that may not have all of the department’s qualification criteria. Refocusing effort so simply getting the work done is too often sacrificed as the extra time needed to coach and mentor the staff in question, time that is not focused on core responsibilities. This argument respecting the issue of coaching and mentoring is potentially huge corporate wide depending and may have renewed focus once the results of the service delivery review become clear. . The organization is clearly undergoing a transition and transformation.
Anticipating and responding to these changes in an effective manner is the role of management. We should continue to anticipate further changes as we continue to address the future of the organization and the delivery of our services. Our objective is to develop a long term strategy respecting our human resources that meets the changing circumstances which also provides for the opportunity to create a succession planning framework. The implications respecting the “baby-boomers” continue to have an impact on most organizations. The reality of the workplace is that we are experiencing the impact of an aging workforce. The average age of our workforce is 48. More importantly for succession planning purposes it should be noted that 56% of our management team and 30% of our overall workforce are over the age of 55.
Considering the impact to the future of the corporation and the desire to build a resilient organization, we need to turn out attention toward securing a sustainable future. The municipal landscape continues to be a competitive environment. Recently, your Administration became aware that several of the Simcoe Municipalities have or are about to embark upon market competitive compensation reviews.
There is a general recognition that we are in a war for talent and that being competitive with the market which we are seeking to attract that talent from becomes a significant factor in our success. We have been able to attract individuals who are in the twilight of their careers, not for the financial compensation but largely for personal/quality of life considerations. As a strategy, it makes for a good temporary stop gap (2-4 years) but as a sustainable longer term human resources strategy it fails to harness the talent and opportunity that the organization should be developing.
Your administration is recommending that we undertake a market competitiveness study to gain an understanding of the current gaps in order to develop a sustainable strategy for the future.
The potential cost associated with any assignment of work to parties external is unknown. However, your administration will undertake a more fulsome examination of specific projects and provide those details as necessary. We anticipate managing any of the additional works within the context of the vacancies and gaps that we are facing. Likewise, the anticipated costs associated with the full market comparative analysis are estimated to be in the range of $25 – $30k and would be borne through the current staffing savings.
Through the adoption of the Strategic Planning Priorities, Council has expressed its desire to develop a resilient corporate culture. It will be equally important that as we complete our service delivery review process that we come out of that exercise with a stronger organizational capacity to meet the expectations that Council established for the services we deliver. Although it is not stated explicitly, it is understood that we also need to begin the foundation of a succession planning process to build corporate resiliency.
Although we are currently challenged with vacancies on several fronts, we are presenting this report as a “work around” (stopgap) to ensure that mission critical work continues to advance while we continue to pursue the recruitments to fill our vacant positions.
Prepared by: J. Skorobohacz, CAO