Here’s How One California County is Transforming Local Government Employment

The Nevada County, California, Human Resources Department is breaking barriers in public service and gaining national recognition for its innovative approach to HR

The Nevada County Human Resources Department has been recognized nationally for its “rule-breaking” approach to hiring and retaining county staff. The department has recently received recognition from the U.S. Department of Labor, the California State Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, and Human Resources Director Magazine.

The County’s HR approach focuses on growing and developing staff, fostering innovation, and becoming a high-performing department. The change was ignited by a shift in leadership — a new CEO with a new vision for the county Human Resources Department and county government employees that emphasizes internships and career building.

While the Nevada County, California, model may not work for all Maryland counties, there are several interesting aspects that might provide inspiration for local HR departments, including:

  • leveraging internal audits to understand county staffing needs and department strengths and weaknesses;
  • seeking — and utilizing — staff input to deepen buy-in and internal ownership over reform processes; and
  • building pipelines for existing county staff and potential candidates via strong internship and professional development opportunities.

The Nevada County model: Knowing where they are to inform where they were going

The County HR Department first took inventory of its processes and quickly realized it needed to be more nimble and more focused on the “needs of the organization and community.” The National Association of Counties (NACo) recently described that process:

We threw out the rule book — nothing was off the table to become the strategic business partner we knew we needed to become. We analyzed our current practices, surveyed our internal and external customers and successful corporate and local government HR offices. We developed both a list of items we wanted to change and set three goals for our office:

Following the internal review, the County took on several departmental reforms, with successful results: reducing its time to hire from 136 days down to 28 through a variety of methods, including:

  • Enhancing hiring process and concurrent processes;
  • Building relationships with county departments and approaching recruitment as a partnership, with shared success in mind; and
  • Empowering the recruiters to make all the decisions at their level was essential to the success of the initiative.

Empowering county staff to help guide HR policy

A pertinent point for the County is staff input, noting in a recent NACo articled that “Developing staff means to give them a voice and ensure they are a vital part of the decision-making process.”

In Nevada County’s case, the HR Department staff “was all in” and wanted their own platform for weighing in and improving HR operations. The HR staff formed a group to do so, calling themselves the “Pit Crew,” after NASCAR — serving as a “well-choreographed team doing amazing things with incredible speed, accuracy, and agility.”  The team meets regularly to identify processes and areas for improvement or elimination. They provide monthly updates on their progress and ideas at all-staff meetings. Since 2020, the team has completed 15 projects, saved the County staff thousands of hours, and more than $250,000 in real costs.

Internships as county career builders

The Nevada County Human Resources Department also created a new internship program to offer “anyone who needed additional on-the-job training an opportunity to become fully employable and learn about the vast opportunities of working in local government.”

The new internship program operated under guiding program principals after the Department conducted exhaustive research on successful internship programs. These principles include:

  • Creating an intuitive and responsive candidate and employer experience
  • Leveraging technology and CPI in all aspects of the program to ensure both an efficient and consistent experience
  • Developing talent pipelines and enhancing the lives of our community

After being in operation for just two short years, Nevada County’s HR Department internship program served more than 135 interns and secured more than $1.2 million in grants to fund intern salaries. Furthermore, the County has hired “so many great candidates who we would otherwise never have had the opportunity to meet.”

Learn more about Nevada County’s innovative approach to county HR.