By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Oct 1, 2017 | 12:00 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – Supervisors, members of the county’s human resources team, and others were all smiles during last week’s board meeting after the county was formally recognized for their efforts to address turnover in one of the county’s key departments by their state-level advocacy representative.
Last Tuesday, Dinwiddie County received a 2017 Achievement Award from the Virginia Association of Counties or VACo, heralding the county’s efforts to reduce turnover and increase morale inside the county’s public safety communications department through Dinwiddie’s “Ready for Hire” program, one of only 17 winners out of nearly 80 submissions to the organization this year.
According to county representatives and their VACo submission, the “Ready for Hire” program sought to address high turnover among the county’s communications officers, which saw members of the Dinwiddie’s Public Safety, including Chief Dennis Hale, and the county’s human resources department “[work] collaboratively to identify contributing factors to the issue and then got creative with how to address them,” staff turned to the county’s full-time public safety employees to garner their input on a variety of topics in order to gain a complete scope of the situation they were hoping to address, with turnover and the public safety emergency communications department being “rarely fully staffed” for several years.
In their submission, the county explains during the 2015 financial year, “there were 12, established full-time communications officers positions” and “during that year alone, the county hired seven” new officers.
During discussions with staff, it was revealed that “burnout was a common theme,” with the county’s submission to VACo sharing, “Due to turnover and understaffing, existing communications officers were carrying an increased workload in order to fill gaps.”
“This, combined with a lack of professional growth opportunities was contributing to an increased level of ‘burnout,'” documents detailed. “Once positions were vacated, there was a lag time of several months before a new communications officer was fully trained and in place on shift.”
Following their discussions with staff, the county then turned to the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, who specializes in addressing the needs of public safety communications practitioners by providing resources, technical assistance, and professional development, and allowed them to conduct a review of the department.
That review from APCO resulted in several recommendations, which included maintaining an applicant pool of qualified candidates, which brought about the “Ready for Hire” program.
The program consists of six stages and completes two cycles per calendar year beginning with an advertisement, county officials explained.
Recruitment is advertised for a minimum of two weeks through ads on the county’s website, on social media, and in local print publications. Those interested candidates are told that this is a scheduled recruitment period and those selected will be placed in the “Ready for Hire” program pool until a vacancy arises, with those applicants remaining in that pool for six months. If there are no vacancies during that time, applicants are contacted and asked if they wish to remain in the pool for another six-month period.
The second step, screening, involves the director of human resources performing preliminary screenings of all applications received, narrowing the pool to those who meet the position’s requirements, with “preference being given to those applicants who also meet the ‘preferred’ qualifications, which include public safety, medical, or military experience.”
A final review of applicants is done by the director of emergency communications in order to confirm that invitations to test or interview should be issued.
Following the screening phase, some form of testing software will be administered to those applicants invited to test and they will have the opportunity to interview with a panel of representatives from the county, including the emergency communications director, human resources, and representatives from the Sheriff’s Office and communications center.
Those applicants who are recommended for hire, following their performance during the first three steps of the program, would then be requested to authorize a background check, with human resources reviewing those checks to confirm if they are suitable for hire.
After successfully completing the first four steps of the “Ready for Hire” program, those selected would become “candidates under the ‘Ready for Hire’ status,” a status they will maintain for six months until either a vacancy is presented or their application review date is reached. As candidates are chosen from the pool once vacancies do become available, candidates would be asked to update their employment information to reflect any changes and, if it has been more than three months since their background check, an updated criminal records check must be completed to ensure eligibility to hire.
Finally, if a candidate does not receive a job offer before their six-month application review date, they will be contacted by the county’s human resources department in order to determine if the person would like to remain in the pool. If no offer is made before the next six-month review date, or two program cycles, they would need to reapply during an open recruitment period to receive further consideration.
Joe Lerch, Director of Local Government Policy for VACo, spoke to the positive outcomes this new program has provided to Dinwiddie since its inception.
“The program has shaved months off the lag time between vacancies and hiring and has also resulted in significant savings in overtime that was being paid to communications officers prior to the program,” he said.
In addition, county officials report the new program “has effectively decreased the time required to fill vacant communication officer positions,” allowing the department to “recover from vacancies and return to normal staffing levels at a much quicker rate than prior practices.”
The county has also reported “decreased burnout” and “reduced overtime costs,” which has resulted in “the improvement of overall morale” of the entire department.
“As of the submission of this VACo Achievement Award application, in FY ’17, we have not hired any new communications officers,” the county reported. “Our most recent communications officer was hired April 15, 2016. We consider this success!”
Both supervisors and County Administrator Kevin Massengill had nothing but praise for the innovative program implemented by the county, which will now be highlighted on a Commonwealth-wide level.
“When you’re having to constantly re-hire and re-tool things, it really does impact the financial side of the house here,” Massengill remarked. “I can’t speak positively enough about the staff and this program that was born by them and I hope that someone will be able to take away some good information from it.”
“You’re finding solutions to employment programs,” Supervisor Dr. Mark Moore said. “That is a great thing. We have some great people working for us and this VACo recognition shows that.”
Dinwiddie’s VACo Achievement Award for their “Ready for Hire” program isn’t their first. The county has won a total of three awards since 2012 from the Virginia Association of Counties with the Dinwiddie Sports Complex that year and their innovative Teen Expo program in 2015.