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Help Wanted: City Hall facing brain drain as non-union jobs go unfilled

The City of Hamilton is at risk of losing its reputation as an employer of choice. Staff are retiring in large numbers, jobs are going unfilled, and the City’s compensation structure has become uncompetitive. The staff crunch could soon begin to affect service levels.  That was the message delivered by City Manager Janette Smith and HR Chief Lora Fontana at the Tuesday news conference. To address the crisis, the City has launched a recruitment and retention strategy to help it become more competitive in an increasingly difficult fight for talent.

The strategy follows a comprehensive third-party analysis in 2022 of the City’s competitive position as it relates to attracting non-union employees – approximately 1,100 positions including directors, managers, and various specialties such as planners, IT specialists and engineers. The analysis was carried about by Optimus SBR at a cost of $107,000 and included an analysis of the City’s current state of operations, a market analysis, and a municipal recruitment best practice scan. The results of the survey were shared in-camera with council during the budget process and approximately one-half percent of the 5.8 percent budget increase was allocated to improving compensation for the non-union workers.

The analysis found that the City of Hamilton had a weakened competitive position as an employer compared to other municipalities. Areas identified for attention include:

•              High workloads – analysis identified that the City’s current organizational structure may be contributing to high workload in areas of the organization

•              Recruitment process is lengthy – average time to fill a position was 87 days

•              Compensation no longer competitive – analysis identified that some of Hamilton’s compensation comparators are no longer appropriate as they do not reflect Hamilton’s economic conditions

•              Variations in policy implementation – analysis identified need to further standardize the City’s hybrid work policy to ensure it’s being applied as equitably as possible

The new recruitment and retention strategy will prioritize the following recommendations from the third-party review:

•              Completion of a corporate organizational structure review – the review will identify areas of organizational structural improvements with an aim to ensuring sustainable workloads and service excellence

•              Update technology in human resources – the City will aim to make better use of technology and systems to increase efficiencies and time in the recruitment process.

•              Realignment of Hamilton’s economic comparators – the realignment will replace some current economic comparators with cities more reflective of Hamilton’s economic reality

•              Adjusting the Implementation Criteria of the Hybrid Work Policy – organization will be moving to a minimum mandatory two (2) “anchor days” in the office for all divisions to support greater collaboration. HR Director Fontana said the new policy would help remove inequities that currently exist that affect staff morale.

•              Making it More Attractive for City Employees to Seek Promotions – in response to recommendations from the third-party analysis, the maximum salary increases an existing employee can receive when excepting a promotion will increase from eight per cent to 10 per cent

•              A comprehensive and ongoing marketing campaign – the City will engage in an ongoing, tailored marketing campaign to ensure the opportunity to, and benefits of, working in Hamilton are well understood.

Said Fontana, “Our third-party review confirmed what we in human resources were already seeing, that Hamilton was starting to lose its position as an employer of choice. We believe that with the renewed approach Hamilton is taking, the value and advantage of working in, and for, Hamilton will be clear, and that Hamilton will continue to attract the best and brightest to help move the City and its important work forward.”

•              Hamilton has been experiencing recruitment and retention challenges similar to other public sector organizations and are starting to experience service impacts due to hard-to-fill positions.

•              Between 2019 and 2022, the City saw the retirement rate of non-union employees increase by 47 per cent (equivalent to 45 non-union employees in 2019 and 66 in 2022)

•              More than one in five participants in the Canadian labour market are aged 55 to 64 and are considered close to retirement. (Statistics Canada – 2022)

•              Between 2019 and 2022, the City of Hamilton saw voluntary non-union employee departures from the organization increase by 40 per cent (equivalent to 84 individuals in 2019 and 118 in 2022).

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