July | August 2017

The workforce within state government is inherently complex. This includes factors such as widely diverse occupational groups hired to provide numerous essential public services, merit system rules and regulations, multi-union or employee association collective bargaining, regulatory implications from legislative and judicial branches, and a myriad of competing interest groups trying to influence how that workforce should be apportioned and utilized.
State government, like all employers, is not immune from an economic recession. In general,
public-sector employers are usually the first to feel the economic downturn and lag behind in terms of the ability to recover quickly.
Since 2008, most states have faced budgetary challenges due to the Great Recession. Layoffs, wage freezes, wage cuts, elimination or reduction of benefits have all been used to help states respond to the loss of revenue. And in many states, the recession has only exacerbated the indebtedness of state employee pension systems.
As the economy improves, unemployment rates have fallen, job creation has increased and employees are starting to see modest increases in pay. But what does this mean for the state workforce? Many states are seeing little or no revenue growth, and what growth has occurred is being swallowed up by increasing benefit and pension costs.
It is doubtful that employment levels in state government ever will return to the pre-recession era rate. States have either cut or modified programs or services or invested in technology solutions that have increased efficiencies and reduced the numbers of employees required to perform the same amount of work.
In light of these implications, a redefining, rather than a rebuilding, of the state workforce is occurring. States are increasing the use of limited or long-term staff augmentation instead of investing in a full-time salaried position with benefits. Public-private partnerships, which delegate traditional public-sector work to private contractors, are on the rise. State agencies are continually striving for improvements in efficiencies given the limited funding and uncertain landscape for increases in funding in the future.
While these approaches are certainly viable options in dealing with the fiscal realities and a shrinking workforce, they also have a dramatic impact on the state workforce that remains. There always will be a need for states to hire employees to carry out those functions that people want and need from their government. So the role of recruiting and maintaining a qualified and motivated workforce are more important than ever for the states.
As a result, many state human resource professionals and administrators are exploring more of the nontraditional methods of attracting and retaining employees. Those approaches include utilizing social media to recruit; offering flexible schedules and telecommuting opportunities; considering flexible compensation and benefit strategies; and implementing in-house professional development opportunities. There is also an increased emphasis on rebranding state government to help market and promote the value and satisfaction that can go with public service.
The recent recession has dispelled the myth that public-sector employment provides an unprecedented level of job security, which was often a significant selling point in attracting qualified candidates to state government. So now more than ever, states are finding themselves challenged with redefining their workforces and ensuring that it can continue to attract and retain employees to deliver the essential services required by the people who live there.
James A. Honchar is deputy secretary for human resources for the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office of Administration. He also is serving this year as president of the National Association of
State Personnel Executives, a CSG affiliate.