Wanted: Good, young civil servants
The city is searching for ways to develop the next generation of public employees
STORY SUMMARY »
About a quarter of city employees will be approaching retirement age in the next decade, say city officials who are already struggling to fill vacancies and recruit new workers.
Top city departments with most number of vacant positions:
1. Honolulu Police Department
2. Department of Environmental Services
3. Board of Water Supply
4. Department of Parks and Recreation
5. Honolulu Fire Department
Source: City Department of Human Resources
City Human Resources Director Ken Nakamatsu said the city is unable to compete with the private sector in attracting employees with jobs that offer higher pay and because of a stigma about working in public service.
Of the city's 8,400 employees, about 25 percent are considered baby boomers, falling between the ages of 42 to 60.
"We're facing, in the city, a major challenge with respect to our work force," said Mayor Mufi Hannemann. "We have an aging work force. To ensure as our veteran employees start to leave, we're enticing the next generation of the city work force."
In an effort to recruit younger employees, the city announced a program yesterday to provide semester-long paid internships for University of Hawaii students.
Local economist Leroy Laney said all employers face the same problem with baby boomers reaching retirement age, despite the state consistently having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.
FULL STORY »
Nearly 2,300 city jobs -- or 20 percent of the work force -- remain vacant as officials search for new ways to recruit and maintain employees, a task made even more pressing with a significant number of employees approaching retirement age in the next 10 years.
The city faces a challenge in replacing its baby boomers, a group that has always had widespread economic and cultural impact. Workers in this generation are now in their 40s to 60s and approaching retirement.
The city will be promoting its new Pookela Fellows Program at two upcoming job fairs at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at Shilder College of Business and Oct. 18 at Campus Center.
Of the city's 8,400 employees, about 25 percent are boomers.
In response to the problem, the city has created the "Pookela Fellows Program" for University of Hawaii students. The program provides semester-long paid internships in various city departments.
The program -- "pookela" meaning excellence -- provides one-on-one mentoring, with a goal of recruiting students for full-time positions.
"This is a very proactive approach to try to encourage people to think about the government sector as a good profession," Mayor Mufi Hannemann said yesterday at a news conference. "Oftentimes we find with graduates that they often think of the public sector as the court of last resort."
The city plans to accept 15 students a semester. They will be paid $10 an hour for up to 19 hours a week.
Hawaii Pacific University economics professor Leroy Laney says the city is not alone, noting that all employment sectors -- public and private -- face the challenge of replacing aging boomers.
"I expect a lot of organizations are facing a similar problem," Laney said, noting that unemployment rates in the state are among the lowest in the country because of the expanding economy. "We have an extremely tight labor market, and that's true at all levels."
Many city jobs are left vacant because there is not enough funding. Other jobs, however, are tough to fill primarily because of lower pay and lesser incentives working for the government, said city Human Resources Director Ken Nakamatsu.
"It's difficult for us to compete pay-wise. When it comes to new hires, the first thing that comes up is pay," Nakamatsu said. "We give them our offer and it's almost laughable."
In the past it was attractive to have a government job because of lucrative retirement benefits, including full medical coverage, Nakamatsu said.
However, because of changes in the state law, employees must work in the government longer to receive a certain percentage of retirement benefits.
"We used to be able to tout that as a major reason to work for the government," Nakamatsu said. "Now we don't have that."
Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall said more needs to be done to address job vacancies, such as streamlining the application process.
"It's a constant frustration," she said. "We need to be full staff, and we're not."
She puts some blame on the lengthy application process, which can take up to several weeks because civil service jobs require extra review.
"In a time when unemployment is so low, no one wants to wait six, eight or 10 weeks until they get a job," Marshall said.