AUSTIN (KXAN) — In response to department-wide staffing shortages, on Feb. 1 the City of Austin is launching its first-ever citywide recruitment campaign to fill essential public service positions.
The 6-month campaign will aim to recruit Central Texas residents who are focused on public service, according to a press release from the city. Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk said we can expect to see recruitment efforts spanning across a “broad reach” including school career fairs, billboards, and busses.
Outreach will be partially targeting underrepresented communities through increased application and qualification accessibility, but Cronk said the postings are meant to attract a broad range of people into these vacant city positions.
“We believe that The City of Austin is a career for so many people,” Cronk said. “…we’re really doing a broad outreach to as many people as we can to make sure that they know what a great employer the City of Austin is.”
The city departments with multiple open positions are Austin-Travis County EMS, Austin Police Department, Austin Energy, Austin Water, Parks & Recreation Department, Austin Public Library, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, and the Watershed Protection Department.
These departments have been pursuing plans to reduce vacancy rates based on their specific needs and resources, the release said. Some target actions include:
- Prioritizing critical vacancies.
- Outreach and targeted recruitment to reach underrepresented communities.
- Expanding reach via job fairs, professional and trade organizations, conferences, graduate programs, college campuses, citywide affinity groups, and social media.
- Creation of recruitment videos and flyers with QR codes for quick access to job postings.
- Simplifying application processes, including by eliminating requests for cover letters, and making them more mobile-friendly.
- Making preferred qualifications more flexible.
- Making sure candidates are aware of benefits and vacation time as part of the offer.
- Introduction and use of flexible schedules and telework opportunities as recruitment aids to support work-life balance.
- Audits and regular surveys of employees to analyze and improve hiring processes and retain new hires.
- Creation of paid internships and apprenticeship positions, with supervision opportunities for existing staff to help with career advancement.
- Hiring and retention bonuses for employees in positions experiencing high rates of turnover
- Incentives for employees who refer new hires.
- Increased budgets to support professional certifications, training, and associations.
- Hiring additional HR Advisors to assist hiring managers.
In August, Austin City Council approved a $20 hourly minimum wage as part of the fiscal year 2022-23 budget that went into effect in October. Civilian staff such as librarians, recreation center staff, utility line workers, waste collection staff, and road repair crews also received a pay increase of 4 percent.
The budget also projected an increase in total property taxes from the last fiscal year by 2.1%, and of that amount, 66% is tax revenue to be raised from new property added to the tax roll this year. This amounts to a tax rate of 54.10 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, compared to last the fiscal year of 45.19 cents.
According to the release, compensation increases have already led to an influx in applicants, and positions across departments are getting filled. City of Austin media relations senior specialist Yasmeen Hassan added that as vacancies are decreasing, new positions are still being added, partially skewing the data. An exact breakdown of the staffing increases across departments was not immediately available at the time of this report.
“We are seeing positive movements,” Cronk said. “As we’re doing these targeted outreach campaigns we’re seeing that vacancy rate tick down, but we know there’s more work to be done.”
The city aims to make the hiring process more accessible by minimizing certain entry level qualification requirements for Austin-Travis County EMS specifically and “assessing applications and eliminating unnecessary barriers” to applicants who may not have otherwise been eligible, according to Cronk. On-the-spot application walk-throughs and referral/hiring bonuses will be implemented as well.
Cronk identified a specific focus on “critical vacancies” affecting public safety, including APD, AFD, EMS, and 911 dispatchers.
“We are seeing (911 dispatchers) as a critical vacancy and we are taking every measure that we can take to address it,” Cronk said. “That includes not only increasing pay and benefits, retention, bonuses, referral bonuses, but also shortening the amount of time that it takes people that go through our training (and) to look at any inefficiency to ensure that we’re getting people answering those calls as soon as possible.”
Cronk added that the city HR department is reassessing the different qualification criteria across all departments in an attempt to write out anything unnecessarily preventing applicants from being hired.
The release said APD welcomed 63 new officers in 2022 who “graduated from reimagined, community-focused training academy.” Other public safety departments will follow suit, specifically addressing implicit bias to ensure that equity is seen through all departments.
“It’s really important that anyone that works for the community knows the values and knows the orientation that we expect for them to serve our incredible community,” Cronk said. “They need to treat our constituents, our residents, our visitors with the respect and professionalism that they deserve. And that’s my expectation, whether it’s through the reimagining Public Safety Academy through a police department, or other efforts through other academies.”
Where the city is seeing the most struggle with vacancies is in telecommunications, 911 dispatchers, police dispatchers, engineers, CDL drivers, and lifeguards, according to Hassan.
“At the end of the day I want to make sure that there’s not a hitch in what our community members expect on the services that they get from the city,” Cronk said. “We don’t want to miss a beat in picking up your trash, keeping our parks and public spaces clean and safe – those are the expectations I (have) throughout this hiring campaign.”
Individuals can apply for positions at the City of Austin by visiting austincityjobs.org.