Missouri governor banks on pay increase to address hiring challenges | Politics

Nelita Collins

JEFFERSON CITY — When it comes to filling vacant jobs, state government in Missouri is facing the same tough slog as private business.

According to a tally by the Missouri Department of Social Services, the number of applicants for positions in the state’s youth division dropped 80% between March 2020 and October 2021. In the child welfare office, the number of applicants dropped from 32 in March 2020 to nine in October 2021, a 72% decrease.

“This is just a very, very competitive labor market,” DSS Acting Director Robert Knodell told the Post-Dispatch on Friday.

On Wednesday, Gov. Mike Parson is expected to again urge members of the Legislature to approve a 5.5% raise for all workers, as well as set a base minimum of $15 per hour for hourly workers.

The idea: make state government jobs more attractive to new applicants and keep current workers from leaving.

A bonus would be saving money now spent on temporary contract workers.

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“We believe this pay plan will make us more competitive,” Knodell said.

Along with seeing fewer applicants for jobs serving troubled youths and children, turnover among workers in the department remains a stubborn problem.

Currently there are 5,744 workers at the agency, which is down 397 employees from January 2021.

Within the children’s division, turnover hit 31% last year and is estimated to rise to 37% this year. At the Division of Youth Services, the turnover raise is expected to hit 41% this year.

Complicating the situation are applicants who fail to respond to a request for an interview, fail to show up for an interview or fail to work after accepting a position.

That, said DSS Human Relations Director Karen Meyer, is partly due to lengthy wait times between when a job is posted and when it is filled.

The average time to fill a position is 45 days, which may be too long for some potential employees to wait, Meyer said.

Knodell, who took over as acting director in October after a series of changes at the top of the agency, said the revolving door of workers has not yet affected services.

“We’ve been able to cover situations,” Knodell said. “But we’re stretching the rubber band. It’s hard to lose that many people and not be impacted.”

The cost of the raises across state government’s more than 48,000 workers is expected to be $91 million for the current fiscal year and $218 million for the next year.

The pay plan got its first airing in front of a House committee last week and has the support of Rep. Cody Smith and Sen. Dan Hegeman — key House and Senate budget leaders.

In a presentation to Parson’s cabinet on Jan. 12, pay was identified as the top way to improve worker morale.

A November survey of workers found that only 14% felt the state provided attractive incentives to “high performing employees.”

“‘Underpaid’ was teammates’ second most frequently used word to describe the State of Missouri government,” the survey noted.

Employee comments quoted in the cabinet documents included, “Pay staff to retain them.”

Workers received a 2% raise on Jan. 1. If the pay hike is approved, an employee earning $35,000 in 2021 would see their annual pay increase to $37,664.

The push for raises caps more than a year of turmoil at the social service agency, which has been under fire from lawmakers over its performance in aiding children.

Last month, the state hired Jefferson County Judge Darrell Missey to take over as director of the children’s division.

In the past decade, there have been three Missouri governors and eight directors of the Children’s Division, including interim and acting directors.

Originally posted at 2:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17.

https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/missouri-governor-banks-on-pay-increase-to-address-hiring-challenges/article_c43e350d-523e-5f06-a844-76ee8b810d42.html

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