September 1, 2022 | Spotlight

UGA partners with Georgia cities to address workforce challenges

UGA partners with Georgia cities to address workforce challenges

Writer: Margaret Blanchard

Cities across Georgia now have strategies and resources for tackling their workforce challenges thanks to research conducted by experts at the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government in partnership with the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) and its nonprofit, Georgia City Solutions (GCS).

The Jobs With Purpose: Georgia Municipal Workforce Development Strategy and Playbook 2022 was presented to the GMA Board of Directors during the association’s annual convention in Savannah this summer.

“The report provides a playbook for cities to proactively address workforce needs through investment, planning and strategy implementation,” said Larry Hanson, CEO and executive director of GMA.

The municipal workforce strategy is based on a needs assessment of municipalities across the state that determined workforce challenges and opportunities for advancing workforce development efforts.

“Ultimately, this is about making sure our municipal governments have the qualified workers they need. Cities aren’t immune from labor market challenges, but this work provides an advantage for municipal leaders looking to recruit and retain talent,” said Greg Wilson, an assistant director at the Vinson Institute, a Public Service and Outreach unit at the University of Georgia. “We look forward to assisting municipal leaders in their efforts to build a sustainable, high-quality workforce.”

GMA’s Municipal Workforce Development Advisory Council, comprised of city staff and elected officials as well as statewide stakeholders — including partners from the Georgia Department of Education, the Technical College System of Georgia and the University System of Georgia — guided the Jobs With Purpose initiative.

After analyzing the needs assessment, the advisory council identified a two-pronged strategy for addressing municipal workforce needs. The first prong focuses on statewide strategies, partnerships and investments that GMA and GCS will pursue on behalf of Georgia Cities.

For example, GMA and GCS will develop resources for cities to promote public service careers, expand the municipal workforce toolkit on the GMA website, and provide grants for technical assistance and funding to assist with pilot programs based on strategies found in the playbook.

Shelly Berryhill, chair of the Municipal Workforce Development Advisory Council and Hawkinsville commissioner, said the playbook prompts cities to review current strategies by asking questions such as: What are the best recruiting methods? What benefits do we need to add to be more competitive in today’s environment? Is our pay scale in line with other cities and competing industries?

“Our goal is to help cities find ways to compete for employees and to assist GMA and Georgia cities in supporting this endeavor,” he said. “There’s more work to do as we further define and implement these steps, but we’re off to a great start.”

The second prong of the strategy focuses on actions city governments can take to address their unique workforce needs. The advisory council identified four strategy areas: employee recruitment; employee retention; pay and benefits, and planning and strategic partnerships.

To illustrate best practices in employee retention, the playbook features the City of Douglasville’s “Promoting Within Policy.” Part of the city’s employee handbook, the long-standing policy allows internal candidates the first shot at newly posted positions within the municipal government. In 2020, approximately 28 employees were promoted through this pathway. Another eight and 16 moved up in 2021 and the first half of 2022, respectively.

Teaa Allston-Bing, Douglasville’s HR director, said having a written procedure is just the first step in retaining workers; it also requires consistent communication and ample professional development.

“Now more than ever we have to be intentional about not only this policy, but all of our policies,” she said. “When employees see that we hold true to these practices — that we do promote within before we even open up ourselves to the external market — then it becomes a known factor and makes us a great place to work.”

Highlighting the benefits of a robust municipal workforce is also an important takeaway from the Jobs With Purpose playbook for Sonja Fillingame, city manager of Union City.

“The framework goes beyond a ‘supply-and-demand’ issue. It goes to the very heart of service delivery — having the bandwidth necessary to provide citizens with high-quality public safety services, infrastructure investment, recreational amenities and more,” she said.