Trends in State and Local Workforce with PSHRA CEO Cara Woodson Welch

September 13, 2023 NASCIO Episode 103
Trends in State and Local Workforce with PSHRA CEO Cara Woodson Welch
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Trends in State and Local Workforce with PSHRA CEO Cara Woodson Welch
Sep 13, 2023 Episode 103

See transcript of this episode here:

Alex and Amy talk with Cara Woodson Welch, CEO for the Public Sector HR Association about the latest 2023 survey on State and Local Workforce. We learn about trends in attracting and retaining workers, recruitment, DEI and more!

See the report here:

Find PSHRA's podcast here:

Show Notes Transcript

See transcript of this episode here:

Alex and Amy talk with Cara Woodson Welch, CEO for the Public Sector HR Association about the latest 2023 survey on State and Local Workforce. We learn about trends in attracting and retaining workers, recruitment, DEI and more!

See the report here:

Find PSHRA's podcast here:

Tue, Sep 12, 2023 10:50AM • 18:55


survey, agencies, respondents, public sector, work, state, people, hiring, retirements, workforce, job, local governments, employees, recruitment, salary, upskilling


Alex Whitaker, Cara Woodson Welch, Amy Glasscock


Alex Whitaker  00:05

Hi, and welcome to NASCIO Voices where we talk all things state it. I'm Amy Glasscock in Lexington, Kentucky. And I'm Alex Whitaker in Washington, DC Today we're talking with Cara Woodson Welch, Executive Director of the Public Sector HR Association, or PSHRA. Today, Cara is here to talk with us about a 2023 state and local workforce survey from PSHRA, Mission Square Research Institute and the National Association of State Personnel Executives. Let's get into it. Cara welcome to NASCIO Voices, and thanks so much for joining us.


Cara Woodson Welch  00:36

I'm so happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me.


Alex Whitaker  00:39

Yeah. Thanks, Cara. It's so great to talk to you. But before we get into the survey results today, can you tell us a little bit about your professional background and how you ended up in your current position?


Cara Woodson Welch  00:48

Absolutely. Well, I'm an attorney. And I started out in advocacy and worked in nonprofit organizations and membership associations. I think this is now my past my 30th year. But most recently, I was 12 years at a nonprofit membership association for human resources. Before I came here to PSHRA, the public sector HR association where I'm the CEO. And I ended up here in March of 2020, which is a fascinating time to start a new job. Yeah.


Alex Whitaker  01:22

Yeah, absolutely. So a lot of change for you that year. Hmm. Great. Well, so tell us a little bit about the background and history of this survey. How many years have you published it? And what's the motivation behind it and who all is involved?


Cara Woodson Welch  01:34

Absolutely. So we actually have been doing this survey with the mission square Research Institute and the National Association of State Personnel executives, for quite a long time since 2009. So we have a long history of longitudinal data to look at. It's a survey of HR professionals at the state and local level, and it tracks key challenges facing state and local governments in recruitment and retention, and other workforce issues. 


Alex Whitaker  02:03

That's great. 


Amy Glasscock  02:03

Okay, so let's get into the survey findings. First, what are some of the trends that you're seeing this year for state and local governments when it comes to attracting and retaining workers?


Cara Woodson Welch  02:14

Well, we are seeing that state and local governments a larger percentage are indicating that they're hiring more full time or part time staff. So there's an increase in hiring. But there was also an increase in voluntary quits and retirements. So it's still a challenge. Hiring is still a challenge. We also are seeing hiring bonuses, salary bumps, more broadly offered. We're seeing also though an increase in time to hire job candidates. And staff shortages. Were also expecting over 53% of our respondents said that they were expecting to see a wave of retirements during the next several years.


Amy Glasscock  02:55

Okay, so some good news, some not so great news. And still that looming retirement is continuing to cause fear. I think I've been hearing about that for a while. Okay, so what are some trends that you're seeing, specifically to recruiting practices?


Cara Woodson Welch  03:10

Well, this has been an exciting area of the survey to watch. And, you know, other recent iterations showed of the survey. So over the past few years, we've seen social media increasingly ranked in the top recruitment methods, and second only to advertising on government websites. But we're seeing more creativity within social media. And we actually saw some agency start looking at ways to make their social media sites a little bit more accessible and talk to various different audiences. We're also though seeing some more college outreach and partnerships with colleges. But on the flip side of that, because some of the states have really started to see that the criteria of having four year degrees for all various types of jobs was no longer necessary. We're now seeing agencies look at upskilling and bringing in high potential candidates, and then really training them for the jobs they have. So increase in internships and apprenticeships, and all sorts of just being creative ways to do communications campaigns around public service, things like that.


Alex Whitaker  04:23

Yeah, that's really fascinating. We've We've certainly seen a lot of that at NASCIO. You mentioned social media, and a lot of CIOs and CISOs are navigating the use of Tiktok. Because that's such a great way to reach people that has security concerns. And then also, you know, so many CIOs are also kind of contemplating the necessity of four year degrees. So that's, that's really great to hear. It sounds like we're kind of doing the right things maybe but can't wait to read more. So what positions do governments report are really the hardest to fill? And again, I'm sure listeners would be interested to know where specifically Iinformation technology falls on that list.


Cara Woodson Welch  04:58

Absolutely. Over the last year, the respondents reported that, and I think a lot of us have been hearing this in the media as well, that law enforcement, policing corrections, and then also health care have been really still incredibly difficult to fill. That's for a number of reasons. Beyond just the vacancies that were caused by retirements, there's been a lot of vacancies that have been caused due to the events over the last few years, including the pandemic. But we also are seeing what I look at, you know, number of applicants this past year compared to the number of positions available. Information technology for at least the respondents in this survey comes into the top five. And our respondents said that 74% of our respondents said that there were fewer qualified applicants than available positions for information and technology employees. Right above that is police, registered nurses, engineers and corrections officers. So it is right at the top.


Alex Whitaker  06:03

Yeah, for sure. That's, that's also really interesting to hear. So and I know that there has been a much greater focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in the last several years and several years. And again, a lot of our state agencies are looking at it as well. So I'm wondering how that has been evolving and what changes have you seen this year compared to last year with respect to DEI?


Cara Woodson Welch  06:23

One of the things that's really interesting around this is that the respondents to this year's survey were more likely than those in previous years to report that their organization, their agencies, are more reflective of the community that they serve. So that is really great to see 55% are tracking diversity and overall staffing 36%. We're tracking it in organizational leadership, close to 50%. Right around 42% are providing workplace diversity, equity and inclusion training. There are more support for employee affinity resource groups, and there is starting to be a small effort now 6% said that they are redacting names or other identifying details from initial applicant screening. However, one of the things that we did see also this year is that there was a decline in the share of organizations that said that they were trying to address diversity via targeted recruitment or retention. I am a little concerned to see that it may be because there are so many vacancies, that agencies organizations are going very broad in their recruitment and search efforts. So it may not be a intentional decrease in those types of efforts. But because we did see, the numbers go down a little bit in that area. It's something that bears watching, considering also, that we have had a recent Supreme Court case on affirmative action in the education space, there are a lot of concerns that we're starting to see they're out that there could be implications for workforce and workspace issues. I know that there are some new court cases or lawsuits that have been filed with regard to certain private sector employers. So I am expecting that we will start to see some pressure around diversity initiatives in the public sector space as well. So this will really be our watching.


Alex Whitaker  08:36

Got it. Thanks. 


Amy Glasscock  08:37

Yeah, I look forward to seeing how that continues to change as you guys do these surveys in the next few years. So I think it's no secret that governments are struggling with the fact that they generally can't provide the same salaries that the private sector companies can. How did respondents view the competitiveness of their wages and benefits compared to the general labor market?


Cara Woodson Welch  08:59

Yeah, that's a great question. As I mentioned, there are a lot of activity around trying to make sure that compensation is something that is competitive in the public sector space. One of the things that we have always seen is that the benefits are very competitive, if not better in the public sector space. So a lot of our agencies and organizations are focusing their efforts around communications around the benefits that are available. But in this year survey, we did have slightly more than half of respondents say that their agency's compensation is competitive. And that's great. I think that what they're saying there is that they're really making some efforts particularly in the entry level jobs to try to make those more competitive. It is not the number one issue that people leave public sector, the number one issue tends to be advancement, and other things like that. So we are seeing hiring bonuses as I mentioned earlier. Are and salary bumps to really try to address the competitive competitiveness of wages. But again, benefits still stand out for public sector as a major plus for candidates coming into the public sector? Yeah, definitely.


Amy Glasscock  10:18

And, you know, kind of what we've heard in the past, too, is that even if the salary isn't commensurate with the private sector, there's also, you know, there's the benefits, like you're saying, and then also the feeling of giving back to the society or your community that is really attractive to a lot of people, and they're willing to take a smaller paycheck in order to do that. 


Cara Woodson Welch  10:39

Oh, absolutely. The mission is really important. And I think especially in the people that are entering the workforce, now, a lot of them really have a strong sense of wanting to understand and work for the mission work for the public good. So I think that public sector has a real edge there, particularly if they can get the word out. I was just talking with a reporter recently about this topic. And one of the things that she mentioned was that a lot of applicants are saying that they're getting ghosted, and not hearing back. And I wonder how many of those people are actually even thinking to apply to public sector because the need is so great in the public sector, I can't imagine that we wouldn't be responding to applicants. So we're looking desperately for people who want to work in the public sector, and have the interest in the enthusiasm for the mission. So getting the word out about the opportunities, you know, through communications or marketing campaigns, I think is incredibly important. 


Amy Glasscock  11:44

Yeah, absolutely. I know, and just in the last couple of months two of my LinkedIn connections, either lost or quit their private sector jobs, and we're looking and I said, you know, both of them were either like user experience or IT people I'm like, have you looked at your state government, because it can be really rewarding work there. So definitely something that I think it's important. So let's talk about flexible work practices. And it seems like flexibility in the workplace has really become more normalized since the pandemic. I know Alex and I spend most days working from home, which is not something that we would have done four years ago. So what are the top flexible work practices that state local governments are implementing?


Cara Woodson Welch  12:28

They absolutely are looking at hybrid workplaces. There are a number of public agencies that will rotate people through on certain days so that there are, you know, one to two days of being able to work from home, there are some agencies that are hiring fully remotely for positions that are available for that not all positions in public sector could be done fully remotely. But those that can there are some jurisdictions that have allowed for that type of hiring. We're also seeing long term or permanent telework policies start to come into place in some agencies, and some flexible work in terms of hours. So we're really seeing quite a lot in all levels of government looking at ways to identify what are the days that you need to have a presence in the office, what are the days that you need to have some some agencies even close one day a week. So it really just depends on what is needed for the community and for the service. But we are seeing a great increase. And in fact, when we looked at workforce issues important to agencies, that was one of the issues that people that the agencies are closely looking at, because they understand that that's going to be important, not only for recruitment, but for retention of their employees.


Alex Whitaker  13:52

Yeah, that's, that's really interesting. And it also seems like there's very much not a one size fits all approach based on agency or state or what have you. And it's been really interesting seeing how, how folks are kind of getting there and meeting their their workers in the way that they need to. So that's great to hear. So do you have any recommendations for state and local governments that are based on your findings?


Cara Woodson Welch  14:12

Absolutely. I think that it's important to look at what other agencies and organizations are doing to share that information with each other so that you're not recreating the wheel. There's some fantastic programs out there that cities and local governments and agencies have put into place that are working really well. Let's let's share with each other and steal from each other. We have a podcast, The Public Eye, and we try to highlight those wonderful creative programs that provide solutions. They're not one size fits all, obviously. And so you really do have to look at what the laws and regulations are within your agency, what the budget is, etc. But there are some really creative ways to recruit to retain and to think about your workforce. We're really seeing, for example, a lot of focus around employee morale, employee wellness, financial wellness, really looking at employee development, the upskilling that I talked about, but also leadership development. So I think it's important not to stay static, but to really look around and see are there programs that are going to work for your particular agency that you can put into place? And and really make a difference and retaining your top employer while all of your employees so that you can provide excellent service to your community? Yeah, great. Wow.


Alex Whitaker  15:39

That's, that's really interesting. And I think really helpful to a lot of our listeners. So thank you so much. 


Cara Woodson Welch  15:44



Alex Whitaker  15:45

Yeah. really appreciate the overview of the survey. But of course, we can't let you go without asking you a couple of fun questions about life outside of work in a segment we call (thunder sound effect) the lightning round! And since we're talking about workforce, this is going to be a workforce edition lightning round. So we are asking questions about jobs. Alright, are you ready? I am ready. All right. First question. What was your first job?


Cara Woodson Welch  16:15

Well, that's funny, because my first job coming out of high school was as a fellow, it was a fellowship that the federal government had to come in and try to recruit more people into the federal government. So it's my first paying job. And I was working in the HR department of the Social Security Administration. I did that for three years. So I do think it's a full circle moment. But now I'm the CEO of the public sector HR Association.


Alex Whitaker  16:44

That sounds way more glamorous than my job serving hotdogs and nachos at the local pool. Amy, I was a lifeguard but I also had some, some rotations serving the food as well. So we're similar in that regard. 


Amy Glasscock  16:59



Alex Whitaker  17:00

Okay, what was your dream job as a kid?


Cara Woodson Welch  17:03

Oh, I love books. And as a kid, I lived close by a wonderful library and old Carnegie style library. And all I wanted as a kid was to be a librarian. So I could be surrounded by all the books in the world, I was that kid who would go in and try to check out as many books as they could carry. And I lived like 10 blocks away from the library, and we had to walk. So it was it was a struggle sometimes. But my mom put this cap, she's like, if you can't carry them, you can't check them out. So yeah, it was to be a librarian and just be surrounded by books all day long.


Amy Glasscock  17:38

That's a good literacy/exercise combo, you can't beat that. Okay, third question, and might be a little tricky. But if you can switch jobs with anyone who would it be?


Cara Woodson Welch  17:48

You know, what I am, where I want to be? This is what I want to do. It's, you know, 20/30 years ago, I actually put together a plan because I'm a nerd like that. And this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be able to lead an organization with a mission that I support, and I'm where I'm want to be,


Amy Glasscock  18:06

You can't beat that.


Alex Whitaker  18:08

Very cool. Well. Well, Cara, thank you so much for your time. This is a topic that we really can't seem to talk about enough with our members. So hearing about your surveys and findings was really valuable. Thank you.


Cara Woodson Welch  18:19

Thank you. I always am happy to chat. This has been a pleasure.


Alex Whitaker  18:23

Sounds great. And we'll definitely put a link to this survey as well as your podcast in our show notes today. Thanks, Cara.


Cara Woodson Welch  18:29

Thank you.


Alex Whitaker  18:31

Thanks again for listening to NASCIO Voices. NASCIO Voices is a production of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers or NASCIO.


Amy Glasscock  18:39

It's almost conference time. Join us back here in two weeks for an annual conference preview with our very own Emily Lane. 


Alex Whitaker  18:47

Registration is open now through October 2. Hope to see you there.