Drive anywhere in Boise and you’re bound to see businesses with “Help Wanted” or “Now Hiring” signs.
The same search for employees exists outside of the private sector. At Boise City Hall, officials say vacancies have increased as a competitive job market means employers across the country are finding it more difficult to hire.
As of Tuesday, the city had 165 openings for full-time positions across all departments, and filling those has been a challenge, Human Resources Director Sarah Borden said. The city has more than 2,000 employees.
“We’re all sort of vying for the same candidates, but it’s just a really hard market,” Borden said.
The vacancies come as a greater number of Idaho workers have chosen to quit their jobs or change career fields. More than 32,000 Idahoans left their jobs in August, a 4% increase from July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That 4% spike was one of the highest in the nation, second only to Kentucky.
Nationally, many workers have cited low and stagnant wages as the reason for leaving their jobs. Some have dubbed the mass exodus of workers in the latter stages of the COVID-19 pandemic the Great Resignation.
The largest number of vacant positions for the city of Boise are in the Boise Police Department, libraries, public works and information technology, according to a list of vacancies obtained by the Idaho Statesman.
BPD has nearly 70 vacancies, the data indicated, although spokesperson Haley Williams said that number is expected to be halved when the new class of recruits finishes training. Some of the BPD openings are civilian positions, but the bulk are police force jobs. The department has more than 400 sworn officers.
The gaps in the department mirror a nationwide trend of police struggling to find new officers to replace those who have retired or left law enforcement for a different job. Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee said many departments had hiring surges in the 1990s and those officers are wrapping up their careers.
“That wave is now breaking on shore,” Lee said in a phone interview.
At the same time, Lee said the department has struggled to find new recruits. It’s a problem nationwide, he said, but Boise’s sky-high housing market can be an extra deterrent for younger applicants. The lowest starting salary for an officer in the department is about $49,000, according to the city. The one-person household median income in Boise is about $52,700.
Lee said police recruitment was an issue even before the Great Resignation. He previously told the City Council that the department planned on hiring 100 additional officers over the next decade — as Boise’s population continues to grow — in addition to filling current vacancies. To meet that demand, he said BPD is seeking to attract officers from other departments, who often have more experience and require less initial training.
The city has started putting money behind the issue. The Boise City Council approved Tuesday the start of a $190,000 staffing study to analyze staffing in the city’s police and fire departments.
The department is also trying to restructure its hiring process so it can move more quickly, because new recruits often take the first job they are offered, Lee said.
‘Those types of jobs are in demand’
City officials trying to fill jobs say they’re struggling to compete with the private sector, which often can pay more for highly specialized positions. Heather Buchanan, chief administrative officer for the Public Works Department, said trade positions are in demand in the Treasure Valley.
“The area is growing really quickly and those types of jobs are in demand across the valley,” Buchanan said. “We see quite a bit more turnover in those types of jobs for our department.”
The city is not offering cash incentives or signing bonuses for would-be employees. Borden said the city wants workers who join for the job and the public service, not the money. In advertisements, the city has been highlighting its benefits package as an attraction.
“That’s kind of a last resort,” Borden said of signing bonuses and other incentives. “It’s not a conversation we’re having.”
Borden said the openings have had little impact on City Hall’s ability to provide services. Some employees may have to work overtime hours to meet demand, but she said Boise is holding steady.
That could change, though.
“If it got worse than (165) by a margin, then I think we’d have to really think twice about what we’re doing,” Borden said.
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