Counties Can Lead Workforce Innovation as Job Market Evolves

The public sector, including county governments, finds itself at a turning point in the pandemic-induced evolving labor market. Here, we highlight some innovative strategies labor experts suggest to address modern work force challenges.

While Maryland’s overall unemployment rate has reached its lowest point since before the COVID-19 pandemic, counties are still universally struggling to hire in the increasingly complex and competitive market.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) recently published an article of interest to county leaders on how local governments around the country are adapting to a shifting labor landscape. The opening line of NACo’s article is particularly noteworthy as policy makers navigate the “new normal”:

While the private sector has won back 93 percent of the jobs lost since the pandemic began more than two years ago, the public sector has gained back only 53 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to MissionSquare Research Institute, as reported on by NACo, the following are key ways to find — and hire — more talented workers:

  • Reevaluate job requirements
    • Employers should consider using skills-based hiring criteria instead of relying so heavily on formal education credentials. Importantly, in doing so, they need to “to hone in on what is really required.” For example, “If you’re not asking for a degree, you have to be really specific.”
  • Offer workers greater flexibility
    • In order to compete with the private sector, public sector employees need to offer greater flexibility in work arrangements. “Re-evaluate how and where work is conducted. Even before the pandemic, flexible work arrangements were becoming popular and the number of positions that can have flexibility has increased.”
    • Notably, 54% percent of state and local governments now offer some type of hybrid scheduling for employees.
  • Offer improved compensation and benefit packages
    • Counties should consider going beyond traditional retirement and health insurance  benefits packages. According to the NACo article, a lot of county governments “are looking at non-traditional benefits such as subsidized childcare, commuting subsidies and student loan reimbursement.” Other benefits can include financial wellnesses programs, the desire for which has increased from public-sector employees during the pandemic and it’s related economic stress.
  • Employ innovative outreach efforts
    • Counties can increase the talent pool from which they hire with increased, targeted outreach. “County governments should reach out to communities — such as first-generation Americans — that wouldn’t normally consider public service. Not only does this expand the county’s recruiting pool, but it can help the county better reflect the community as a whole.”

Read the full NACo article.

At the 2022 MACo Summer Conference general sessions, “Workforce Issues Pt 1 – Addressing Shortfall, rethinking what a certain degree or qualifications could mean for positions, equity” and “Help Wanted Part 2: Recipe for Retention,” esteemed panels of leaders and policy experts will explore the current challenges in Marylander’s evolving workforce and new and innovative approaches to hiring and retention.

The 2022 MACo Summer Conference will be held at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, MD from August 17-22. This year’s theme is “Taking Care of Business.” More information can be found on our conference website.