Skip to main content

Columbia Business Monthly

No matter how the economy is doing, the need for city services—and workers—remains

By Eric Budds

Efforts at recruiting and retaining professionals in South Carolina often center around the state economy’s pressing needs—the need to address shortages of teachers and nurses or the need to attract the talent needed for growing manufacturing fields to thrive. 

Along with all other critical professions, however, we need to make sure we are recruiting the future workforce of our cities and towns, and holding on to them once they are on the job. No matter the strength of the economy, the need for city services remains—we need municipal workers keeping our water clean, our trash collected, and our neighborhoods and businesses protected from crime and fire. 

Workforce recruitment is all the more critical when the labor market tightens, as we have seen lately. The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce tracked a steady decline in the state’s unemployment rate in 2018, and it reached a low 3.3 percent at the end of the year.

Talking to municipal human resource directors, we know that they promote those job perks that can be found only in the public sector, like state health insurance and state retirement benefits. Robust benefits packages can provide a selling point for job candidates that’s equally attractive or more attractive than the raw salary number. Benefits like these can make municipal employees far less interested in leaving their jobs. 

For law enforcement agencies, recruitment can be especially challenging, since the jobs in this field sometimes seem to grow more demanding every year. We’ve seen cities and towns work proactively and creatively to maintain their police rosters, however, as they seek more competitive pay for their region and more attractive work schedules. 

Agencies like the Spartanburg Police Department have moved to four 10-hour work days, which gives officers more days off in a row to rest, relax and be with their families. The City of West Columbia, meanwhile, created a $1,500 signing bonus for newly recruited officers, as well as a $500 bonus for any employee who successfully recruits an officer. On top of that, at a time when agencies are greatly emphasizing community policing, West Columbia instituted a $150-a-month stipend for those employees who can bring additional language skills to the table, like Spanish or American Sign Language.

We always want to show young people the potential of local government careers. The millennial generation greatly values opportunities to perform meaningful work, and cities and towns can give them plenty of those opportunities. Municipalities strive to ensure that all residents, regardless of background, have access to parks and recreation, safe housing, safe neighborhoods, and even cultural opportunities. 

The City of Spartanburg works to drive home the point to employees that they are making a measurable difference in residents’ lives, using a “One Team” initiative. It has included walking tours of the city’s development projects for employees, as well as group discussions between employees and leaders of local businesses and neighborhoods. 

There are many more efforts among our municipalities than just these—employee luncheons and cookouts, promotions of a city’s holiday schedule, and initiatives to promote employee health and wellness. The City of Newberry, for example, has been awarded by the S.C. Public Employee Benefit Authority for such employee wellness efforts as support for gym memberships, weight-loss challenges, and exercise challenges.

South Carolina cities and towns can draw job candidates in with stability, attractive benefits, or even the ability to change the world around them. In any case, we must keep a focus on full rosters, especially in those challenging areas like police, water plant operators, mechanics, or drivers with commercial driver’s licenses. The future growth and success of the Palmetto State is riding in part on the ability of people to perform these jobs with South Carolina’s hometowns.