Those wonderful people who brought you the “teacher shortage” are now
bringing you the “public employee shortage.” You read stories all the time
about the teacher shortage–but only when a teacher-training institute or
university needs more applicants!
Think about this “shortage” in a different way. The Elk Grove
Unified School District, just south of Sacramento, had over 10,000
applicants for certificated teaching positions last year–and they publicized
But when you asked them how many new teachers were hired, the total was only
167. Not much of a “teacher shortage” now; and there probably never was
A couple of weeks ago, CPS Human Resources Services, an entrepreneurial for-profit public agency based in Sacramento, released a report indicating a need for its services. The Sacramento Bee described the report with the headline, “Agencies facing loss of leaders–retiring government managers’ successors aren’t in pipeline, a new study warns.”
State employees tend to repeat this mantra of their personnel offices quite
frequently nowadays–but that’s because they’ve been exposed to the same
sort of advertising.
The truth is more complicated.
There are currently 223,000 state government employees. Only 54,259
of these employees were working for the state government just eight years
ago, and only 20,651 were working for their current state government agency
eight years ago–that’s less than 10 percent.
California state agencies have experienced a turnover rate of more
than 90 percent over the last eight years and have survived. So why do these
people keep telling us we have a new problem? It’s not new: It appears that
we just have a continuing problem, one that the state has handled on a
First, the numbers appear to be shocking, so let’s go over them
carefully. Generally, all large organizations, government or private sector,
lose approximately 1 percent of all their employees every single month. In
the last eight years, there were 96 months–at that rate 96 percent of all
state employees would have left their jobs. That computes pretty closely,
Are these state employees who leave retiring? Only a few of them–20
percent of those 96 percent–retired with CalPERS benefits. That’s about 3
percent of the state workforce each year, or roughly 6,000 employees. Give
CalPERS a call and they will say that retirements are pretty steady–no big
ups and downs. The Governor’s Commission on Performance Review documented
this steadiness as well. That leaves about 24,000 employees leaving state
service every year prior to retirement, presumably seeking a better job
Capitol Weekly’s payroll data confirms a very high level of turnover. We
began receiving the state’s payroll data on a monthly basis in July 1997.
Every year since 1997, the state has added approximately 30,000 new
employees–regardless of whether there was a “hiring freeze.”
Twelve percent turnover per year for a 223,000-employee workforce is 26,760
employees, and the state has added about 20,000 new net jobs over that
eight-year period (that’s a rate of 2,500 per year). Therefore, we would
expect the state’s continuing personnel needs to be at the 29,000-30,000
level. Capitol Weekly’s detailed analysis of the state’s payroll data
confirms this consistency–year in and year out.
So what are we to make of this extensive churn among state employees?
Great State Job Opportunities. There are, and will continue to be, plenty
of state employment opportunities for those who want to land state jobs with
great stability, pay and benefits. As there have been over the last decade,
there will continue to be 30,000 new job opportunities every year.
State Compensation Packages Don’t Hold Employees. The state’s gold-plated
benefits don’t seem to be a golden lure to attract workers. The state
government provides compensation packages three to four times what the
private sector provides most employees. Most of that compensation is in
benefits that don’t show up immediately in one’s paycheck. These include
benefits such as health insurance in retirement and a pension after 20 years
at 50 percent of pay. These benefits are pretty costly for the state to
provide and they don’t seem to have an impact. The state loses employees at
the very same rate that the private sector loses employees. And no private
sector employer in California comes even close to offering a comparable
Personnel Offices Don’t Have a Clue. State personnel offices are producing
these “retirement crisis” reports right and left. They are produced because,
first, they are easy to produce–a simple computer analysis is required–and,
two, they appear to justify more personnel office employees. The reports
serve as a full employment act for personnel employees.
Governors/Department Directors Can Get Things Done! With this high degree
of turnover, a great state governor can have an enormous impact. The
employees blocking his/her initial proposals will be long gone–thereby
allowing a persevering and focused governor to get something done on his/her
own terms. No need for “union bashing” here!
The state fails to implement annual surveys of employee satisfaction; it has
severely reduced training opportunities over the last 20 years; it has never
implemented a policy of performing exit interviews; and it has failed to
communicate the richness of its compensation package. The state government
has no idea on why its employees leave in troves and why it faces massive
turnover on a regular basis. It begs the question of whether the wealth of
benefits and stability offered by the state is worth the cost.
Are you shocked by the numbers in the headline at the top of this column?
You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t. I certainly was!
Headlines are occasionally designed to get attention and shock people into
action. A more thorough and introspective analysis of the state’s
employment trends would be worthwhile–and the state should perform such an
analysis. In performing the analysis, a good idea would be to avoid
profit-making public personnel agencies masquerading as experts! And, of
course, conflict of interest disclosure forms would be required!
Ken Mandler teaches a monthly workshop on How to Land a State Job. The
workshop focuses on a variety of tactics and strategies designed to make the
state job process an effective one for you. The workshops are 3 1⁄2 hours and
include over 400 pages of information for your review. The cost is $75.
The next workshops are scheduled for Thursday, November 17th 6:30 PM-10 PM
and Saturday, December 10th 9 AM-12:30 PM. You can sign up by calling (916)
444-7665 Extension 105 today!