(TNS) — Facing the potential retirement of a quarter of state employees by 2022, Connecticut’s administrative agency is taking cues from the private sector to streamline and modernize its bureaucratic network.
Across agencies, the state is implementing new digital programs to increase efficiency and improve security, including upgrading networks to Microsoft 365, creating an online “one-stop-shop” so that new businesses can more easily register and pay fees, and using artificial intelligence to sort through the first round of applicants for state positions.
“For me, coming out of the private sector, I think you’re the nerve center of the state,” Lamont told two dozen employees Monday during a tour of the procurement division of the Department of Administrative Services, the state agency responsible for hiring, information technology, real estate, and other administrative offices.
There is a sense of urgency to these upgrades and consolidation efforts: a massive wave of state employee retirements is expected to begin in the next three years. A quarter of state employees -- nearly 15,000 people -- will be eligible to retire on July 1, 2022. Many may stay beyond that date to earn full retirement benefits, but DAS commissioner Josh Geballe said that his agency is making preparations for the “silver tsunami.”
Geballe said that conversations would soon begin about how each state agency -- from child protective services to the state police -- will prepare for the coming change. He added that labor unions would be critical partners in those discussions.
The impacts will be wide-ranging. For instance, eighty-five percent of fire marshals are slated to retire within the next five years, said Noel Petra, the deputy commissioner for real estate and construction services.
“We’re trying to prepare for that by allowing the private industry to develop their own inspectors and we’ll become more of the auditing, regulatory agency," Petra said, adding that it was a model that New York City has used for three decades.
Consolidation and modernization have been a priority in the state’s human resources department, administrators told Lamont. With the job application system for state employees now entirely online, Connecticut has been able to attract a much wider pool of applicants: 500,000 applications for 6,700 jobs in the past two years.
“Do people want to work for state government? Do they believe in the mission?” Lamont asked a room of employees.
Statewide program manager Heather Tweeddale said that it varies widely.
“We have a difficult time with psychiatrists and doctors and some of the skill trades, but some other evergreen jobs like social workers, we get a lot of applications for," she said.
Next year, Connecticut will begin to use artificial intelligence technology to sort through the initial round of applicants for all of its state employees.
“That’s the type of initiative that any one agency...wouldn’t be able to afford or implement on their own, but by bringing this all together, we’ve got the critical mass, we’ve got the leadership here to implement changes like that," Geballe said of the new technology.
The increasing use of artificial intelligence in the hiring process in the private sector has raised some concerns about the potential for bias as algorithms screen human candidates. But Geballe said that AI technologies have started correcting for potential bias -- and that the state’s equal employment opportunity hiring goals would ensure additional checks on the system.
Another major opportunity for consolidation and cost-savings involves state-owned real estate. Petra, of the real estate and construction services division, said that the state was reevaluating its properties and would likely sell superfluous buildings.
“Some of these buildings are not in great shape, but private industry will turn them right around,” he said.
Lamont told reporters that he agreed: “We can keep subsidizing our cities, or put more of these things on the tax roll. The best way to help Hartford is to expand its grand list."
Consolidation will also enable the state to save money and reduce its footprint, Petra said, by creating work spaces that prioritize collaboration and shrinking some floor plans. At 450 Columbus Boulevard, the building which houses DAS, there is space for about one thousand additional employees, he said.
“The state government looks very different in 12 years than it does today," Lamont told reporters after the tour. “Now’s the time to think about it.”
©2019 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.