A report provided to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) committee last Wednesday showed that all of the recent DHHS job openings had less than ten applicants apiece, demonstrating the hiring issues facing the county.

“The number of applications that we are getting are very minimal and even when you look at these applications and weed out, you only get one or two that are actually qualified,” said Christine Hovell, director of the DHHS.

Nearly four years ago, the county moved to a new wage scale that allowed for pay increases based on merit and pay ranges.

Diane Peterson, the personnel director for Jackson County said the goal of this wage scale was to get employees to the middle of the wage range or the market rate for the position, which is where most employees who were performing at a fully proficient level would be at.

The middle of the wage range to the maximum was intended for employees whose performance is excellent or outstanding and consistently exceeds performance objectives.

In the top half of the wage range, pay increases would slow and these exceptional employees would get more time off and bonuses.

“I think one of the things we have heard from other folks outside of our community was when you look at our wage scale, you are stuck at mid, you don’t go above and beyond mid. That is a concern for folks who are applying here. We have heard that from others who have decided not to apply,” Hovell said. “You are publishing a range, but really max is attainable only on a very limited basis.”

Dan Williams, Jackson County DHHS children and families division manager, has investigated these findings and has found some similar results in other counties.

“I know the number of applicants are down across the Western region. Other counties are seeing more (applicants). The same time we were advertising our social work position, Monroe County was too. The supervisor without actually looking or asking their personnel department thought they had 12 to 13 applicants for that. I mean it isn’t much more, but then I also heard from that individual that the majority of people they interviewed, they would have hired, which is not the experience we are having here in Jackson County,” Williams said.

Williams said this general lack of applicants across the region has also led to unorthodox hiring practices.

“My social workers are reporting to me that they are getting approached by other counties now. It used to be limited to managers and supervisors where someone might buy the mailing list or kind of figure out who is who and reach out, but now my social workers on their personal emails are getting targeted for positions in Eau Claire and that,” Williams said.

John Chrest, who used to be an administrator for DHHS offices around the state and is now on the Jackson County DHHS committee has seen this shift personally.

“The thing that I have noticed in my years since I was a young administrator, we would advertise, even up in Phillips, I would get 85 applicants and our first screen would be getting it down, but it has progressively gotten less,” Chrest said. “Now being here and sitting on interviews, it has just trickled down and that is why counties are starting to do dirty pool because even Eau Claire and La Crosse probably are not even getting the applicants they have been used to.”

The committee felt that while the applicant pool is reducing in the area, there are other reasons other counties are aggressively trying to take employees from surrounding counties.

“Other counties like us because we have trained people. That is a big one, let me tell you. They are going to do whatever they have to do to get somebody that has been trained,” DHHS committee member Joe Hunter said.

Other issues that were considered to be adding to the reduction of applications included less flexibility in the workplace compared to surrounding counties, losing applicants before they even get to the interview process and the fact that many county agencies are close to Jackson County.

Chrest summed it up, “There are a lot of things that are important to people beyond money.”

Some of the members of the DHHS committee are also on the personnel committee. Those that are on both committees reassured the DHHS committee members that the personnel committee has been vigorously working to correct the wage scale and many of the other issues facing employment within the county.

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