How Montgomery County hopes to entice workers in a competitive market

Caseworkers, 911 telecommunicators, correctional officers, workers in congregate care settings, public defenders are among the help wanted.

Montgomery County Community College. (Courtesy of Montgomery County Community College)

Montgomery County Community College. (Courtesy of Montgomery County Community College)

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Montgomery County has over 85 jobs to fill – more employees resigned in 2021 than in the previous year. So the county is hosting a career fair at Montgomery County Community College’s Blue Bell campus on Wednesday, April 6.

Fourteen county departments will be present at the fair. Board of Commissioners Chair Valerie Arkoosh said she hopes that meeting the teams in person will help entice prospective employees.

“I think a lot of times people … just simply aren’t aware of what the job opportunities are,” she said.

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County officials listed 911 telecommunicators, caseworkers, correctional officers, workers in congregate care settings, public defenders, and attorneys for the District Attorney’s Office as high priorities. The Planning Commission is also recruiting.

Kelly Cofrancisco, a county representative, said Montco is always hiring for these kinds of positions because of their stressful nature.

Montgomery County’s vacancies align with statewide and national trends.

“The county is not immune to the current job market challenges that all employers are facing right now when it comes to hiring,” said Arkoosh.

The Bucks County Courier Times has reported that the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Lower Providence, with an average daily population of 870 inmates, had 207 corrections officers and nearly three dozen vacancies in February 2022. There is also a shortage of 911 responders across the region, such as in Philadelphia, which has led to slower response times.

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Economist Paul Harrington, director of the Center for Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University, said the ratio of unemployed job seekers and vacant jobs is “unprecedented.” For every unemployed worker, he said, there are 1.5 vacant jobs.

In January, Pennsylvania had 341,000 unemployed workers and 532,000 vacant jobs, according to the state Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That leads to more job options, and then resignation numbers go up, said Harrington, “because your opportunity to get a new job is tremendously high.”

People look for higher wages, better workplace conditions, more flexibility, and these days, options to work from home.

“Low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement, and feeling disrespected at work are the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year,” according to a report by the Pew Research Center. Issues with child care and a desire for more flexibility also ranked highly.

Montgomery County offers a pension, health care, paid parental leave, and, for some jobs, flexibility to work from home.  Minimum rates start at $15 an hour, and this year, the Board of  Commissioners voted to raise the starting salaries for all county positions.

Some of the vacant jobs are within departments that have unionized positions. Probation officers and domestic relations officers are unionized, but 911 telecommunicators, in the department of public safety and caseworkers are not unionized.

The minimum salary rates have a wide range. Caseworkers, for instance, start at $43,456, and 911 telecommunicators start at $36,228.00, depending on experience.

But money is not the only priority for workers, according to a Prudential survey: One-third of people who quit during the pandemic took a pay cut, and of that group 49% prioritized life over work.

Many of the Montgomery County jobs listed are “very challenging,” acknowledged Arkoosh.

In 2020, the county’s Emergency Communications Center answered and processed 840,990 emergency calls, an average of approximately 2,300 calls per day, according to the county.

And the demands on caseworkers are also “stunningly high,” with some of the lowest wages in the American economy, said Harrington, the economist.

“It’s a job you bring home after your shift,” said Harrington. “You may have heard some really disastrous stuff, right? If you’re an adult, you can get a much less taxing job with probably more flexibility for 15 bucks an hour.”

Arkoosh said 911 telecommunicators go through extensive training on things such as CPR and how to give Narcan to someone who has overdosed.

“They are given a lot of training around managing the stress in these positions,” said Arkoosh. “And there’s a lot of support within the department for making sure that folks have the time that they need, particularly when they’re trying to process a call that maybe didn’t go so well.”

Arkoosh hopes people will be attracted to the idea of serving their community, and in some cases, saving lives.

One local telecommunicator was recently featured in the New York Times for helping a mother give birth in her car.

Cofrancisco said the county is taking extra efforts to spread the word about the open positions. They’re advertising on social media, sharing information through the Montgomery County Community College, and notifying their informal networks with townships and boroughs.

She said retaining people is “definitely a challenge,” as frontline workers face the two year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are seeing some of the signs of burnout as well as just fatigue,” said Cofrancisco.

She said the county is looking at ways to better retain people.

“Whether that’s more training, whether that’s more benefits that we can provide or compensation. That’s always something we’re looking at.”

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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