RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – From processing driver’s licenses to ensuring the safety of drinking water, North Carolina government agencies are having a difficult time hiring and retaining workers to do a variety of jobs that taxpayers count on.
Leaders of the General Assembly addressed the issue this week as they talked about priorities for the new legislative session that will begin in January.
The latest data from the North Carolina Office of State Human Resources shows the vacancy rate in state government reached 22.5 percent in August, which was up from 21.3 percent in April.
“We certainly want to be in a position to increase those salaries. We know we have to. We also have to do even other things to retain and recruit employees,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). “It’s happening everywhere. So, there’s a lot of shifting in how folks work, remote-based working, what does the work week look like. There’s a lot of conversations that North Carolina’s gonna have to have.”
While the General Assembly approved pay raises of 3.5 percent for most state workers in the budget that passed this summer, the State Employees Association of North Carolina urged Gov. Roy Cooper (D) at the time to veto the budget, arguing those raises wouldn’t be enough to address hiring challenges.
“Every taxpayer should care about this because all of us are affected,” said Ardis Watkins, executive director of SEANC. “The salaries are not anywhere close to competitive in many cases.”
Some state agencies are offering bonuses and other incentives to try to recruit people for some of the positions that are hardest to fill.
North Carolina DMV Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said as of this week the agency has added nearly 100 license examiners at offices across the state since June. In a statement he said, that’s not enough.
“We still have more work to do to attract, hire, train and keep our employees in this challenging labor market,” Goodwin said.
He said the agency implemented additional recruitment and retention bonuses this month as well as increased salaries.
The Department of Adult Correction is offering sign-on bonuses of as much as $10,000 as the state tries to fill vacant jobs in state prisons. Sec. Todd Ishee recently told state lawmakers the vacancy rate among correctional officers is 40 percent.
“I think they’re realizing now that waiting is just putting more people in danger and costing North Carolinians the services their taxes are paying for,” said Watkins.
Speaker Moore said earlier this year amid the debate about how large the pay raises should be that Republicans decided to put billions of dollars into reserve funds out of concern about a potential recession on the horizon.
The Associated Press reported this week that state revenues are about $1.2 billion more than expected since the fiscal year began July 1.
“It’s time. There’s money. There needs to be the will to go with the money,” said Watkins.
Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) pointed to the broader issues employers are having in general with hiring. Nationally, there are about 1.7 job openings for every available worker, according to a U.S. Labor Department report in late November.
“So, I think the pay is one piece of it. I don’t know that that’s the entirety because you go out to the private sector and they’re having the same problems,” Berger said. “We don’t have enough potential employees for the slots that exist. And, I don’t know that changing the pay is by itself going to solve that problem.”