The city of Waco is now hiring and is taking steps to close the employment gap it has sustained for the last few years.

The city has about 100 vacant full-time positions, though the number often hovers at about 150 vacancies. With seasonal positions becoming available, city staffers told the City Council Budget and Audit Committee on Tuesday about efforts to advertise positions more effectively, make the application process more accessible and to keep employees once they are hired.

City Manager Wiley Stem III said hiring and retention has been an issue for the last few years. The problem extends to front-line positions, mid-level management positions and specialists like engineers, Stem said. The city of Waco has more than 1,500 positions total.

“Those front-line, brick-and-mortar positions are absolutely critical to us,” Stem said. “I see it every day as we talk to departments. That’s where we’re getting hurt the most.”

He said the improving unemployment rate has made employee retention more difficult. As employees, especially those in technical positions and field maintenance, rack up necessary certifications and new skills for their positions, they might start looking for work in the private sector within a few years.

“Once they get their certifications, they immediately become more valuable to other entities,” Stem said. “I don’t think we want to be a training ground … not just to lose them.”

Many employees’ salaries have stayed level for years, even among long-time city employees. The council also discussed the possibility of implementing an incentive system to encourage employees to stay after gaining certifications.

“I think that’s something we need to look at, for us to be able to stay competitive and hold on to these employees,” Stem said.

Councilwoman Andrea Jackson Barefield said a city employee mentioned during a casual conversation recently that the employee was working two part-time jobs in addition to the full-time city job.

“We ended up talking, and she said ‘Oh, I heard about this at one of my part-time jobs,’ ” Barefield said. “I’ve heard that before from other folks, and it always plays in the back of my mind, especially when we talk about unemployment is so low.”

She said factors including the cost of living in Waco and the strain of working multiple jobs cannot be ignored.

“We just want to make sure we’re cognizant,” Barefield said.

Waco human resources director Missie Pustejovsky gave a presentation during Tuesday’s meeting covering recent changes to the city’s hiring process.

The city implemented online applications last year and designated more employees to recruitment and staffing. Officials also plan to advertise the positions more prominently and post them on more websites, including with the Texas Municipal League, the Cen-Tex African-American Chamber of Commerce, the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and local colleges.

“When I started with the city only 15 years ago, just posting job listings on the city of Waco website was enough to attract people to come to work for the city,” Pustejovsky said. “Today, we’re going to have to be much more active.”

The city hired 31 new employees in April and lost eight.

“As soon as we’re hiring them, we’re losing them, so that’s another consideration,” Pustejovsky said.

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