San Jose is scrambling to fill job vacancies
San Jose City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

    In an effort to fill hundreds of job vacancies at San Jose City Hall, city employees will soon see a threefold boost in their job referral bonuses.

    Elected leaders last week unanimously increased the city’s hiring referral bonus from $500 to $1,500. The increase will be in effect from Feb. 20 to June 30. The city hopes the bump in bonuses will help attract new hires to fill a significant number of jobs. 

    There are 722 unfilled jobs out of 6,234 full-time positions, which equates to 11.6% of the city’s total workforce, said Jennifer Schembri, director of employee relations and human resources.

    Prior to COVID-19, the city had about 650 unfilled positions with a 10% vacancy rate. The higher vacancy rate is due to the city adding 50 new positions, she said.

    Schembri said the pandemic also exacerbated the labor shortage due to economic uncertainty. Plus, the city’s human resource department has been short two people due to a general fund shortfall. This has delayed recruitment.

    Adding to the hiring complexities is the city has hundreds of classifications and each is individual on requirements and its ideal candidate.

    “It’s a very competitive hiring environment,” Vice Mayor Chappie Jones told San José Spotlight. “We’re having some real challenges filling those positions. We have to do everything to be competitive to recruit and retain qualified individuals.”

    Other vacancy factors include the city’s high internal promotion rate, which leaves positions to fill, certification requirements and employee attrition, city leaders said. In areas where salary may be an issue, the city has been completing compensation studies to adjust pay ranges.

    Jones said it’s not only extremely difficult to fill specialized jobs like IT and engineering, but also openings across the board in almost every department, including planning and code enforcement and park rangers.

    “In Silicon Valley, people with skills, dedication and training are in demand,” he said, “and we’re competing against the private sector.”

    Jones is banking on the increase in referral bonuses to help close the gap and bring people on board. The vice mayor doesn’t anticipate a dramatic effect on the city’s vacancy rate, but he said even a small positive effect is a good thing.

    Another way the city is working to decrease vacancies is by streamlining the hiring process. Jones said some areas are antiquated, requiring people to take lengthy tests not even specific to the job and screening people out. The lengthy hiring process is also a problem—it can take three to six months to land a job at City Hall.

    Bill Gold, senior executive analyst in the Office of Employee Relations, said in a memo that the temporary increase in referral bonuses to city staff “would bolster the city’s ability to recruit and hire the most qualified external candidates.”

    The costs associated with the temporary increase will be absorbed by departments’ existing budgets. The initial referral program offering $500 was approved by lawmakers in June 2013.

    Schembri said the temporary referral bonus is intended to create an incentive for employees to talk to their friends and professional acquaintances outside of the city’s workforce about the open positions and encourage them to apply.

    “We are hopeful that it will reduce the city’s vacancy rate,” she said. 

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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