Annual Workforce Survey Indicates Engineering Positions Most Difficult to Fill, Edging out Policing

New research finds a steady increase in telework among state and local government employees (27 percent), the highest share since 2016 (22 percent). This practice is more common in state agencies (64 percent) than local jurisdictions (19 percent).

The increase may relate to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that overlapped with this research. This telework trend, and others, may change dramatically given the ongoing pandemic, social distancing guidelines, and unprecedented pressures on state and local government budgets.

These findings are contained in a new research report from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE), State and Local Government Workforce: 2020 Survey, available here. SLGE will hold a webinar on Thursday, May 14, 2020, at 1:00 PM ET to review the findings and respond to questions. Register at no charge here.

In terms of positions that are the most difficult to fill, the research indicates engineering and skilled trades topped the list (28 and 26 percent, respectively), edging out policing (25 percent), which had previously topped the ranking. The results also indicate that top workforce issues for state and local governments again remain competitive compensation packages (87 percent), recruitment and retention of qualified workers (83 percent), employee morale (78 percent), employee engagement (70 percent) and leadership development (65 percent).

According to the survey, the job classifications or departments that are most excluded from flexible workplace policies include public safety (41 percent), public works (27 percent), parks and recreation (23 percent) and public health (19 percent). Again, COVID-19 is altering this landscape and triggering greater experimentation.

Regarding retirement benefits, 75 percent of respondents report no changes for current employees, and 69 percent report no changes for new hires. As with retirement plans, the predominant response on health plans is that there were no changes implemented in the past year. Beyond that, the most common responses related to implementation of wellness programs, cost shifts to employees or retirees, or adoption of high-deductible plans with health savings accounts. Similar to the 2008 economic downturn, retirement and health care benefits for state and local workers could change in future years to contend with budget shortfalls.

“This survey will be an increasingly important baseline as the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold,” said Gerald Young, SLGE senior research associate and lead analyst of the survey. “Overall, the data show a continuation of recent workforce trends, but we anticipate dramatic swings in future years. We’re on the leading edge of the state and local workforce impacts as jurisdictions face severe budget shortfalls given increased COVID-19 costs and decreased tax revenues. Some jurisdictions are already cutting staff, and experts predict substantially more layoffs, pay reductions and benefit cuts,” Young said.

Since 2009, the Center for State and Local Government Excellence has partnered with the International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR) and the National Association of State Personnel Executives (NASPE) to conduct an annual study on state and local workforce issues. This year’s survey continues many of the questions from the original survey, with additional detail around emerging issues such as flexible workplace policies, positions that are difficult to fill, and reasons for job separation.

This year’s survey was conducted online from February 27 to April 7, 2020, and results are based upon the responses of 222 public human resource professionals who are members of IPMA-HR and/or NASPE. The growing scale of the COVID-19 pandemic during this time meant that a number of jurisdictions were dealing with changed working conditions, from office closures to additional time spent on continuity of operations decisions around essential services.

SLGE will continue to track these and related issues, both as part of this survey series and related polling of state and local government employees being undertaken with support from ICMA-RC. SLGE gratefully acknowledges the participation of IPMA- HR, NASPE and ICMA-RC in such research, as well as the dedication of state and local government employees during these extraordinary circumstances.