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The Great Resignation | Hampton Roads municipalities are shifting workplace practices to hire and retain employees

The number of people who quit jobs reached record levels during the pandemic. Employers, including local governments, are feeling the impact and working to overcome.

HAMPTON, Va. — People quit their jobs in record numbers during the pandemic, and employers are feeling the impact as they struggle to fill positions and retain workers. 

The effects of the worker shortage reach beyond the private sector. 

For years, Rose Scott swam four to five days a week in the city-owned indoor pool at the Hampton Aquatics Center.

“My motto is, ‘Any day in the water is a good day,'" she said. 

But this summer, Scott can’t do that because of a lifeguard shortage.

“We are not able to keep the pools open as much as we would want to," Bob Manners, aquatics manager for Hampton Parks and Recreation, said. 

RELATED: Lifeguard shortages in Hampton Roads could limit how long you splash at the pool this summer

Manners said he’s down more than half the number of lifeguards needed to be fully operational and doesn’t have the staff to cover all indoor city pools and beaches at the same time. 

The City of Hampton provides lifeguards for its two indoor pools, Buckroe Beach and Outlook Beach in Fort Monroe. 

During the busiest time of year, the city is cutting pool hours.

On days when the Hampton Aquatics Center is open, the city’s Fort Monroe facility closes. 

“Unfortunately, because of staffing shortages, we can only have one pool open at a time," Manners said.

Manners said he noticed a slight decline in lifeguards a few years ago. 

“And then when COVID hit, it just all went away, and it doesn’t seem to have recovered quite yet,” he said.  

RELATED: Employers struggle to retain workers amidst the 'great resignation'

The effects of the unusually high number of people who quit during the pandemic are still affecting businesses and organizations across the country. 

Labor Department data released this month, showed another 4.3 million U.S. workers quit in May

“The Great Resignation -- you know it is still alive and well and growing even after the pandemic," Francina Harrison, founder of T.C.E. NOW or The Career Engineer, said.

Harrison said more employees are considering what she calls the three E's – environment, engagement and earnings. That’s in line with recent Pew research showing top reasons workers quit in 2021.

But Harrison said local governments face different challenges than private companies.

"Right now, candidates have a choice. They can pick and choose," Harrison said. 

"So municipalities have to be thinking a little more progressively [about] what can they do within the limitations they have to attract and keep that workforce." 

RELATED: Millions of Americans quit their jobs at unprecedented rates

“I’ve never had the situation we have right now with hiring,” said Hampton City Manager Mary Bunting. 

Though she acknowledge a likely impact of the pandemic on the workforce, Bunting said there are other possible factors, like generational and demographic trends. Bunting, too, said she began to notice the downtrend before the pandemic.  

Right now, nearly 17.5% of full-time jobs with the City of Hampton are vacant.

According to Bunting, that’s higher than in years past with the Parks & Recreation and Public Works departments among those hit the hardest.

Bunting said they’re making big changes to hire and retain employees.

“We are trying to approach this in a holistic way," Bunting, who has been Hampton's city manager since 2009, said. 

RELATED: Hampton proposed budget highlights tax relief, combating worker shortages

To boost retention, Bunting said the City now offers employees more opportunities for advancement based on their skill set and no longer waits for someone to retire or leave to hand out promotions.

They’re also boosting pay and professional development strategies, like providing mentors for new hires, and they’re allowing more people to work from home.

“That is something we would not have done before the pandemic," Bunting said of teleworking. 

To fill vacancies, Bunting said Hampton now offers more ‘on-the-spot’ hiring during job fairs and will now provide required trainings. So, instead of requiring applicants to have certain certifications, Bunting said the City now offers the training themselves.

For instance, the City of Hampton will train applicants to become CDL drivers if they agree to stay on staff for two years. Bunting said that has been effective in bringing in new hires to drive garbage trucks, and leaders hope to convince them to stay during the two years. 

‘In the past, before we would hire you, you had to have that CDL certification. Now, we are willing to provide the training for individuals before they come on board," she said. 

RELATED: Attracting the best workers: what people want and say "yes" to a job

City leaders are doing the same for lifeguards in hopes that they can get enough applicants to be back at full force.

In the spring, Manners and his team offered five lifeguard classes and trained 50 people as American Red Cross lifeguards at a lower-than-typical price.

“Unfortunately with the shortage throughout the region, we were only able to get about 3 of those 50 people,” Manners said. “We’re just doing the best we can with what we got."

Bunting said city leaders are trying to figure out ways to help people see the city as a fun and engaging place to work where employees can make a difference in the community. Bunting said they are working to make the job culture “more fun” and “easier” for their staff; both are adjustments based on recent employee feedback. 

Hampton is not the only city in Hampron Roads looking to fill jobs.

Vacancy rates and where to apply in Hampton Roads:

Chesapeake -  Vacancy Rate is 14%, which is near the highest mark in three years, according to city data. People can apply at www.CityofChesapeake.net and select the “Employment” tab. 

Hampton - Vacancy Rate is 17.48%, or 342 full-time vacancies, out of 1956 total positions. To apply go here

Newport News – Vacancy Rate is 13% or 500 vacancies. However, Newport News spokesperson Sarah Bowman states the number "isn’t very far off of our normal percentage of vacancies." People can visit www.nnva.gov/jobs to apply.

Portsmouth – Vacancy Rate is 19%. People can apply at: https://www.governmentjobs.com/careers/portsmouthva/

Suffolk - There are 220 vacancies, 52 of which were recently budgeted positions this fiscal year and were effective July 1, 2022. Job seekers are encouraged to visit www.suffolkva.us to view available employment opportunities. 

Williamsburg – Though unable to provide vacancy numbers in time for this report, a city spokesperson mentioned the impact of staffing shortages on Williamsburg Parks and Recreation. In October 2021, city leaders reduced hours at Waller Mill Park. However, after boosting pay to $19/hr. for part-time workers starting this month, the City received enough applicants to resume daily activities. People can apply at www.williamsburgva.gov/jobs.

Virginia Beach – Vacancy Rate (including retirements) is around 12.7% or 864 vacancies out of 6,806 full-time employees. Interested candidates may find job opportunities and apply at: www.vbgovcareers.com.

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