The City of Austin will be launching a major jobs campaign to promote hard-to-fill positions and increase recruitment across the organization.
The Citywide hiring campaign, led by the City’s Human Resources Department and Communications and Public Information Office, is the largest in the City’s history and will run for six months, starting Feb. 1. It will leverage print, digital, social media, radio, billboards, buses and more to ensure broad reach and recognition.
The campaign aims to recruit residents of central Texas who are focused on public service and helping the community and may be attracted to the City's great benefits. The campaign’s key message is “Get Hired! It’s more than just a job. Find a career with the City of Austin.”
Latest figures show that the City is beginning to make progress in reducing vacancy rates that have remained higher than normal since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between Sept. 25, 2022, and Jan. 14, 2023, Citywide vacancy numbers fell by 7%, from 2,755 to 2,554, as more people were brought on board. The vacancy numbers for sworn public safety employees fell by 8% over the same period.
“While we’ve made progress in filling positions in recent months, we know there’s more work to do,” said Austin City Manager Spencer Cronk. “With departments intensifying their efforts to fill vacancies and our new Citywide hiring campaign ready to launch, we’ll continue to do everything we can to recruit and retain talented people to deliver the services our community expects.”
While elevated vacancy rates are not unique to the City of Austin, or even to the central Texas labor market, the City Manager’s Office has made addressing them a priority for City leadership. Measures to increase recruitment and bolster retention were the centerpiece of the City's FY23 budget, which invested heavily in the City’s workforce by including an across-the-board pay increase of 4% for civilian staff – the largest increase in more than two decades – along with a 33% increase in the minimum wage.
The compensation increases began in October 2022 and have already led to a higher volume of applications, and more hires, across many departments. However, the City is launching the new jobs campaign in recognition of the likelihood that vacancy rates will remain a challenge for the rest of the year.
The City’s overall approach to compensation is to offer a competitive market salary and provide great health, retirement and other benefits, while balancing the need to maintain tax/rate payer affordability.
Aside from the planned jobs campaign, departments have undertaken and continue to plan for a range of actions to reduce vacancy rates. Recent departmental strategies for hiring, which vary across departments based on their specific needs and resources, include:
- Prioritizing critical vacancies.
- Outreach and targeted recruitment to reach underrepresented communities.
- Expanding reach via job fairs, professional and trade organizations, conferences, graduate programs, college campuses, citywide affinity groups, and social media.
- Creation of recruitment videos and flyers with QR codes for quick access to job postings.
- Simplifying application processes, including by eliminating requests for cover letters, and making them more mobile-friendly.
- Making preferred qualifications more flexible.
- Making sure candidates are aware of benefits and vacation time as part of offer.
- Introduction and use of flexible schedules and telework opportunities as recruitment aids to support work-life balance.
- Audits and regular surveys of employees to analyze and improve hiring processes and retain new hires.
- Creation of paid internships and apprenticeship positions, with supervision opportunities for existing staff to help with career advancement.
- Hiring and retention bonuses for employees in positions experiencing high rates of turnover
- Incentives for employees who refer new hires.
- Increased budgets to support professional certifications, training, and associations.
- Hiring additional HR Advisors to assist hiring managers.
Austin-Travis County EMS
In September, the City increased starting pay for EMTs and paramedics. ATCEMS decreased the minimum entry level qualifications for its Cadet-Field positions and increased its Cadet Academies from 2-3 per year to 4 per year, which has helped reduce vacancies by at least 60 positions since October 2022, with 70-80 additional hires expected by December 2023.
Austin Police Department
While APD continues to work to fill current vacancies, the City welcomed 63 new officers to the Department in 2022, all of whom graduated from a reimagined, community-focused training academy including a curriculum centering on diversity and equity. A one-time $5,000 hiring bonus has been introduced for qualified applicants.
The City has taken a range of actions – including pay raises and pay scale adjustments – to address specific challenges with emergency call center vacancies. As a result of these changes, APD is seeing a higher volume of applications. The City hired three dispatchers in December 2022 and anticipates onboarding five dispatchers and four 911 call takers by the end of this month. Training schedules for both officers and emergency communications staff have been modified so that training can occur more quickly and more often and job offers made earlier.
In FY 2022, Austin Energy filled 306 vacancies - 205 were internal candidates and 101 were external. This is an increase from 2021. While the internal promotions create new vacancies, they highlight Austin Energy’s workforce development efforts. So far for FY23 the utility has filled 108 positions – 71 internal promotions and 37 external hires. Austin Energy has reduced its vacancy rate from 14.5% at the end of December 2021 to 12.8% in mid-January 2023, the latest period for which figures are available.
In FY 2022, Austin Water (AW) filled 300 vacancies - 92 were internal candidates and 208 were external. AW is committed to continuing to prioritize hiring in FY23, focusing on operational positions. As part of this effort, open houses are planned for potential operational position candidates at the Ullrich and Davis Water Treatment Plants, which will include on-the-spot assistance to help attendees complete and submit applications. AW offers a generous referral bonus and new hire incentives and is also partnering with professional organizations in the industry to develop new talent resources, including creation of a training module to be used in local high schools to teach students about water operations. AW has also begun surveying new hires and current employees to increase staff retention.
Parks and Recreation Department
The Parks and Recreation Department is focused on maximizing recruitment of lifeguards to staff the City’s pools over the summer season. It needs to hire about 700 lifeguards to fully operate the aquatic system while hundreds of other temporary employees are needed for summer camps and maintenance. The City recently raised its minimum wage to $20 per hour to keep up with the cost of living. Lifeguards now get free training and a free uniform. There is also a $400 lifeguard training stipend for staff who complete a certain number of work hours during the swim season. The Department has used media campaigns, social media, direct marketing, and paid advertising to help increase recruitment.
Austin Public Library
Austin Public Library (APL) decreased its vacancy rate from 18.7% in July 2022, to 11.8% in January 2023. Jobs are posted as soon as management learn of an upcoming departure, before positions become vacant. APL has held two large job fairs to hire temporary employees and establish a recruitment bench for regular-status jobs. Hiring and the vacancy rate are discussed at every Executive Leadership Team and Management Team meeting.
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
The Department of Aviation continues to fill vacancies and support on-airport partners in filling their vacancies following historic pandemic impacts on the travel industry. The Department has started a program to hire temporary employees, which offers a faster way to fill vacancies and grow an internal candidate pool for full-time positions. The airport hosted a Job Showcase and Hiring Fair in September 2022 continues to support AUS concessions through a paid marketing recruitment campaign aimed at filling vacancies in airport restaurants and shops. The AUS Way Retention & Incentive Program launched in fall 2022 with monetary benefits based on tenure and for referrals for hard-to-fill positions.
Watershed Protection Department
Watershed Protection reduced its vacancy rate from almost 20% in early FY22 to 13.1% by January 2023. During FY22 it hired almost 140 employees, focusing on building an employee-friendly work environment by updating its telework policy to allow up to 80% remote working, and providing mobile phones instead of stipends to allow more digital access to employees, including field workers.
Individuals can apply for positions at the City of Austin by visiting austincityjobs.org.