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Task force calls for streamlining state hiring process

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

A panel of government officials is recommending that the state do more to streamline its hiring process as part of an effort to fill thousands of state jobs.

The Task Force on the Modernization of the State Personnel Management System made nearly a dozen recommendations it said could make it easier to attract candidates and fill vacancies. The 11 recommendations in the report, required by the legislature, was released this week in advance of the start of the 2024 General Assembly Session.

The task force called on the Department of Budget and Management to “take the next steps to review the recommendations of the task force and create an implementation plan.”

The panel added that “implementing many of these recommendations will only be successful with additional resources and funding which will need to be weighed against other budget priorities.”

Recommendations of the panel included creating pipelines of talent within state agencies, making job titles easier to understand and linking salaries to those jobs that are not mismatched with the title.

The panel also called for making the hiring process more efficient and moving to a system where a team of recruiters would be responsible for handling applicants from the start of the process through the time when they start their state job.

Many of the recommendations could be implemented by Moore and his budget team. Others may require some legislative intervention.

There are roughly 10,000 vacancies across state government, according to an estimate used by Gov. Wes Moore (D).

This number includes roughly 6,100 to 6,300 vacancies within 64 executive branch agencies overseen by the budget office. The balance of the vacancies is in the Maryland Department of Transportation and the University System of Maryland or other independent executive branch agencies that have their own personnel systems.

Gov. Wes Moore (D) said he is committed to reducing the vacancy rate in state agencies but has not said how close he is to meeting a goal of hiring 5,000 new state employees in his first year. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Moore vowed to halve the number of vacancies in his first year. It is unlikely he will reach that goal.

In November, it was estimated that the state hired between 800 and 900 new employees through mid-September.

Additionally, hiring data shows the state is losing employees almost as quickly as it hires them.

Hiring within state government is a slow, complicated, and often siloed process.

The Maryland Department of Transportation and the university system and some other independent agencies are separate from the rest of the executive branch. Additionally, applicants for a position within one executive branch department are not seen by other departments with similar job openings. Candidates must apply to each individual agency.

Additionally, the state has more than 3,000 job classifications, making it difficult for applicants to know if they are qualified for a job.

On average, it takes four months to fill a job from the time there is a vacancy, according to the task force.

The slow pace in hiring prevents the state from being competitive with the private sector, according to the report.

“Under an ideal scenario, the hiring process could be completed within 56-70 days (8-10 weeks) or half the time the state currently takes to hire,” the task force wrote. “Compared to the private sector, even the state’s ideal hiring scenario takes a long time, and results in the loss of qualified candidates in a competitive market.”

State law prescribes when and for how long a job opening must be published and when interviews can begin. In most cases, applications are not even scored as they come in, something the task force said should change.

The task force, in its report, found that “statutory requirements for the [state] hiring process are very prescriptive and do not allow flexibility.”

Pay is another area of inflexibility, according to the report. Rules meant to ensure equal treatment of state employees across job classifications “can make it difficult for the State to offer salaries to recruit candidates with exceptional skills or keep pace with shifting marketplace demands proactively,” the panel found.

Adding to the challenge, the number of applications received so far this year is still one-third fewer than a decade ago.

In 2013, the state received nearly 350,000 applications. That number dropped sharply over seven years to less than 130,000 applications in 2020.

Despite the pandemic, the number of applications crept up over the last three years. In 2022, the state received more than 150,000 applications.

That number will exceed 200,000 in 2023.

The task force called for an increased effort to hire younger applicants. Applicants for state jobs aged 44 to 58 outpaced all others.

“The top reasons why the respondents were attracted to State jobs were stability and meaningful work,” the panel wrote. “The task force made note of the ages of most State applicants and expressed a desire to attract more young workers to state government.”

The panel also called for money to pay for stepped-up recruitment campaigns.

“The State does not currently provide funding for advertising activities in [the Department of Budget and Management]; therefore, DBM and agency staff almost exclusively pursue recruitment activities that have no cost,” the task force wrote in its report.

The panel noted that the Department of Transportation was able to reduce its vacancy rate from 10.2% to 7.3% in four months through its “Taking you places” campaign.

The agency, using traditional and social media, targeted prospective candidates between the ages of 25 to 49. The department doubled the number of applicants over four months at a total cost of about $600,000.

“Any additional funding for recruitment efforts will need to weigh against other State government priorities,” the task force wrote.


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Task force calls for streamlining state hiring process