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State Capitol Week in Review – November 28, 2021

LITTLE ROCK – State agencies have experienced the same problems as many companies with difficulty hiring entry-level employees.

Several agencies have contacted the state Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to report a difficulties attracting applicants for available positions.

OPM put together a proposal that allows for higher entry-level salaries for all state agencies and presented it to legislators in June.

A broad approach was proposed, rather than simply raising salaries at a few specific agencies. OPM was aware of the possibility of a ripple effect that would cause employees to leave one agency to work at another.

“This becomes particularly critical at the county levels where everyone tracks the salaries of others,” OPM officials wrote in a letter to the Legislative Council’s Personnel Subcommittee.

“There has been increased media attention regarding salary increases of jobs within the national economy requiring less strenuous qualifications and duties,” OPM officials wrote.

Some private companies offer bonuses and some help new employees pay their college tuition. The letter specifically mentioned salary increases announced by Walmart, Tyson, Chipotle, McDonald’s and Amazon.

The Personnel Subcommittee reviewed the request for higher salaries for jobs at the bottom of the scale. Not all state agencies have taken advantage and raised salaries, but some major divisions have.

For example, the state Board of Correction has approved changes to its pay grid that will raise salaries for more than 3,500 prison staff.

According to the Office of Personnel Management letter, other agencies have experienced difficulty hiring new staff, including the Human Services Department and the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

Employees could receive raises as high as $5,000 a year, depending on their duties and their job’s slot in the state pay grid.

In their request for authority to raise entry-level salaries, officials at the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) mentioned the pressures on the Office of Child Support Enforcement. The office has about 600 employees in 27 offices around Arkansas.

Their work is high volume and demands acute accuracy. They prepare documents for legal cases that are often contested by one of the parties in a divorce or child support case.

Employees must communicate professionally with parents of children in disputed cases, and with businesses that employ those parents, officials within law enforcement, the judicial system and other state agencies.

The work is “often high stress due to the subject matter and the level of conflict that sometimes exists in the families we serve,” DFA officials wrote.

Historically, DFA would get 100 applications when a job became available. Now, the agency receives only seven or eight applications for each job opening.

Often, the agency offers people jobs and they accept. However, before their first day on the job they will call to say that they have found a better paying job somewhere else.

“DFA is simply not able to compete for qualified employees in the current environment,” agency officials said.

The pandemic has worsened the problem because many people are concerned about working with a steady flow of customers, such as a revenue office where people renew licenses.


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