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County Hall Corner: Help Wanted and Help is On the Way

For most of the 1990s and into the first decade of the new millennium, I lived in Eastern Europe and wore a number of hats, one of which was working as a human resource management specialist. Picking up my MBA in Belgium and Ph.D. in Latvia, and postdoctoral work at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, I found myself rather busy in helping companies of all sizes on three continents deal with the challenge of employees, what I termed dealing with workers from hiring to retiring (…or firing!).

I mention this because I can plainly see the crisis right now in the United States over the lack of employees for business and non-profit enterprises. Why this has happened is a story for another day, but the struggle is serious because there are four essential elements that must be in balance for any organization to survive; profitability (financially solvent), productivity (it must be producing a product or service that is in demand), customer service (there must be a market for this product or service) and finally, employees (engaging them in such a way they wish to stay with the organization). If any of these are dysfunctional, the organization itself will be dysfunctional. In other words, these four must be ‘balanced’ for the system to run effectively, or the business will no longer be in business.

For the past couple of years, the weak link in this chain is the last one — employees. Anyone who is not a hermit has seen “Help Wanted” signs plastered everywhere. Businesses, large and small, are struggling tremendously to fill their employee vacancies or even find volunteers, in the case of charity organizations.

The government of Lycoming County is one of the largest employers in the county, and for years it has been struggling with finding and keeping its employees. Unfortunately, this is not just a headache for top management — the County Commissioners — but also for the labor force that is working that must pick up the slack. For them, it means more work and little or no compensation for doing it.

The Lycoming County Commissioners meeting on Thursday, November 10th, was monumental in addressing the employee recruitment, engagement, and retention difficulties the county has been wrestling with for decades. Policy #400 took up an hour of discussion before it was finally voted on and approved, but most of it was trying to explain the significance and possibilities of the new policy.

What it is designed to do is open up an entirely new compensation policy for the Lycoming County workers. In simplest terms, it is not just evaluating employees who have education and experience for hiring purposes but also for setting the rate for their employment compensation. This is huge because, in many cases, the base rate for positions was not evaluating the true value of the employee itself. The result was that an individual would accept the job but have an eye open for any other openings somewhere else because they would believe they were not properly being compensated.

Everyone has their own assessment of their employment value. For example, a graduate from an elite college who just dropped upwards of $100,000 in four years of education wants more than a base wage, but they do not realize that they actually don’t know squat about the real world and their ‘worth’ is in their potential, not their present knowledge/experience base. And a man who has spent years and years on the front lines of his occupation and knows all the ‘ins and outs’ yet does not have the recognized credentials is also minimized in compensation.

Given that the county’s current employment policy dates back to 1988, it was more than about time. The new compensation Policy #400 for Lycoming County is innovative and hopefully effective in meeting the employees at least halfway in these areas. It will be an invaluable tool for recruiting purposes. Also, current employees with significant and recognizable education and experience will find that these will be factored into their compensation plan.

The board of commissioners deserves high praise for addressing an issue that has not been dealt with for three decades now. Whether it will make a real difference, time will tell because we are living in times that do not make a lot of sense. But, if I were many years younger, I believe I would seriously consider working for the county because it seems they are certainly heading in the right direction.

For those interested in exploring employment possibilities with the county, contact Career Link Center. 145 W. 3rd St, Williamsport, PA. 17701 (