State agencies are struggling to attract job applicants amid employee vacancies, according to a presentation given to the Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability Wednesday morning.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, who chairs the committee, called for the presentation to learn about the current employment challenges faced by state agencies. Speakers from a variety of public sectors made one thing clear: State agencies are struggling to attract and keep employees.
“Not only are we seeing elevated turnover, we aren’t seeing the same degree of interest in people applying for these positions,” said Heather DiGiacomo, chief of staff at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. “These turnover rates, at these levels, risk disrupting continuity in services being provided, impacts the number of well-trained staff available to mentor new staff and puts additional strain on current staff without longer shifts in detention.”
Over the past three years, the state has seen a 34.7% decline in the number of applicants to state positions. That’s despite a three-year, 7.2% increase in job advertisements, according to a report from the Florida Department of Management Services. Numerically, the state went from 892,965 applicants in FY 2017-18 to just 583,356 in FY 2020-21.
J. Todd Inman, Secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services, tried to reassure the committee, saying that in his hiring experience, even a small applicant pool often has many unqualified candidates.
“Those are not all qualified applicants. Those are some that are just using a shotgun approach. Some that are using it to say that they applied for a position, some that they may be leveraging against their current employer to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got an interview here, I need a raise over here.’ So filling the talent pool is critical,” Inman said. “Florida did such a great job of keeping its economy open and moving. It’s become red hot, and the employment, as we’ve seen throughout the state, has become an employee’s market.”
So, who’s leaving? Young, low-wage employees make up the largest cohort of departing employees — a group that has seen substantially higher turnover rates in the past few years.
According to the DMS presentation, the number of employees under 30 leaving state agencies has increased by 98.2% over the last seven years. The age group with the lowest turnover rate increase are those in their 40s, who have increased turnover by 38.2% in the last seven years.
The state’s lowest-paid employees also have seen the highest increase in turnover rate. According to the DMS, those making less than $50,000 have left their jobs by an increase of 89.2% in the last seven years, going from about a 9% turnover rate in FY 2013-14 to a nearly 18% turnover rate in FY 2020-21.
Why? Officials from several state agencies said that employees are challenged by work conditions, lack of flexibility and low wages, according to exit interview data.
“We have a high number of vacancies and turnovers. Because of that, it places an additional workload on the assisting staff who are currently still employed that causes burnout and fatigue,” said Rose Salinas, deputy director of budget, planning and administration for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. “It is the better employment and wages as the No. 1 reasons people are leaving.”
Ricky Dixon, Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, echoed Salinas’ concerns, saying 71% of correctional officers indicated in their exit interviews that salary was their main reason for leaving.
“I don’t disagree with Secretary Inman in that salary is not everything, but it’s close to it,” Dixon said. “The salary has created the conditions. So because of the void in the workforce, the conditions deteriorated and the amount of overtime required to work and the safety aspect, it’s had a significant impact on our agency. “
DiGiacomo added, “Again, these are the same reasons that you’ve seen from my colleagues on reasons for leaving …. More and more, staff find that employment at other businesses that do not have the same level of responsibility or stress as that of being a detention or probation officer.”
Brandes chimed in, acknowledging the shared struggles of the agencies.
“That’s a problem,” Brandes said. “I think one of the interesting trends that we’re seeing is essentially every agency is having similar issues.”
Inman, however, asserted that it’s not always about salaries, but about management and fulfillment.
“Florida is very lucky in the fact that it has such a great economy, and it has such a great quality of life and everything it has going for it. It’s not always about the salary,” Inman said. “It’s about the employees’ fulfillment and how they feel that they are being enriched in their position.”