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Pennsylvania Hopes to Recruit Workers Ahead of Retirement Wave

Gov. Josh Shapiro signed an executive order on Monday that pioneers several initiatives to attract public service workers. Approximately 18,000 state employees will become eligible to retire in the next five years.

During an appearance at a state job fair on Monday, May 13, Gov. Josh Shapiro signed an executive order aimed at making public service jobs more attractive, given the impending retirement wave in the state’s workforce.

Shapiro stopped by Monday’s job fair at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, which the administration said was the state’s most comprehensive to date, featuring roughly 40 state agencies recruiting for nearly 600 open positions.

“Public service is a noble profession. We have some of the finest public servants in the nation working for us right here in the commonwealth,” Shapiro said. “But I’m also mindful that we – the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as an employer – are competing with the private sector.”

To that end, Shapiro’s order establishes what is being dubbed the Hire, Improve, Recruit, Empower (HIRE) Committee, led by Office of Administration (OA) Secretary Neil Weaver, which will pioneer several initiatives.

These are to include: an incentive program to recruit employees with non-English language skills; mentorship and job development programs for military veterans and the formerly incarcerated; the expansion of childcare programs in state buildings; providing free period products in state restrooms; allowing state employees to use paid time off for mental health purposes and more.

Shapiro was joined Monday by labor leaders and state employees, including Neisser Ribera, an information technology apprentice with the OA who described a “supportive working environment” that has allowed him to develop his skills.

A recent graduate of Dauphin County Technical High School whose parents moved to Pennsylvania from Puerto Rico and Bolivia, Ribera is the exact sort of employee – young, ambitious, of immigrant background – that the commonwealth needs to recruit in order to keep its workforce strong, Shapiro said.

Labor leaders also pointed to flexibility in benefits as a crucial issue, particularly with regard to child care, which is unaffordable to many families and is seen by many economists as a major factor keeping workers out of the labor force.

“The workers shouldn’t have to choose whether have to stay at home and take care of their kids, or go to the office and get their work done,” said Steve Catanese, President of SEIU Local 668, of the need to expand the state’s in-office child care programs.

The current 600-position vacancy count is about average historically speaking, Weaver said. What’s more concerning is that roughly 18,000 state employees – a quarter of the workforce – will be eligible to retire in the next five years.

The state is faced with backfilling its workforce in a historically tight labor market; Federal employment data shows that, as of March, there were roughly 1.7 job openings for every unemployed person in the commonwealth.

Monday’s fair featured a steady flow of job-seekers in and out of the Farm Show building during Shapiro’s appearance, many of whom seemed enthusiastic about their prospects.

“I feel like I have a lot available to me,” said Lilly Hatcher, who was discharged from the military last month.

Hatcher said she’s interested in work with agencies such as the state Department of Corrections, Office of Veterans’ Affairs, and Office of the Victim Advocate. She also said that the state’s mental health assistance programs were particularly attractive, given the expense and limited availability of care to those with mental illness.

“I came in here a bit nervous, but now I’m feeling optimistic,” Hatcher said.

Neel Ghosh, a recent Penn State graduate, was looking for IT work. Many in his field – including himself – send out large numbers of applications to various tech companies, which often sort through them with an automated system, Ghosh said.

Coming in-person to the state job fair is a very different experience, and although the commonwealth might not offer the top-line salaries of big tech, the public sector “is more stable, as opposed to the private sector where it’s more a hire-and-fire situation,” Ghosh said.

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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