The world of work is an ever-changing landscape, never satisfying itself with producing whatever it is we want; some people see more, better, larger, faster and they convince others to make their visions reality.
That, in itself, encourages disruption, be it new products, faster ways of getting things done, anything that changes the way work is performed. But it must go on. Americans need things, lots of things. Newer things. Bigger things, better things, things that do more. We need to be safer, healthier, more informed, more educated, prettier.
Into this world, thousands of human resource specialist workers venture each day, attempting to help keep the number of workers constant with the demand for their skills.
42nd Circuit Court Judge Stephen Carras and staff in courtroom.Suzanne Ault is the human resources director for Midland County.
Suzanne Ault, human resources director for the County of Midland
, says a team effort is needed to deal with ensuring staffing levels are effective across departments. “It is a constant challenge and we have an excellent team and also consultants that keep us up to date, with all the changes in the workplace," she says.
In the City of Midland
, relative newcomer Rebecca Schaefer, director of HR and Labor Relations, wholeheartedly agrees that just maintaining services across the work spectrum, requires having everyone on board.
“The last few years have been a challenge for HR offices everywhere,” says Schaefer. “ I've only been with the City of Midland since June, but from what I've observed in my short time here is an incredible HR team that is able to rise to the challenge. Additionally, there is great collaboration between the HR department and leadership throughout the city, so it truly is a total team effort.”
Rebecca Schaefer is the director of HR and Labor Relations for the City of Midland.
Across the state, the latest employment data shows the workforce, including the government workforce, still growing in October, despite an uptick in the unemployment rate, according to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget in Lansing
Government workers increased to 588,000 in October 2022 from 576,000 in September 2021, a 2,1 percent hike. Midland County totaled a 3.9 percent unemployment rate in October 2022, the same as September, according to MTMB.
The city and the county are not alone dealing with all the changes that have occurred since the world went into pandemic lockdown in 2020, forcing Midland governments into changing how they looked at the business of governing as well.
Ault notes decisions were made based upon the objectives of the service. “The 24/7 operations such as law enforcement (Road Patrol, Juvenile Correction Center County jail and Pinecrest Farms continued as usual),” Ault says. “For a few months beginning in March of 2020, employees who were able to work from home until all county employees returned to their work locations June 1, 2020. Many employees were still coming into the office during the stay at home period of the pandemic as they were designated essential workers but we tried to limit that as much as practical.”
"I can confidently say the City of Midland offers meaningful work that directly impacts the community and its citizens."
Still, it has changed the way we look at the workplace, and work itself, and it has forced human resource professionals to look at the people they work with new eyes. They have to listen.
“A lot of people have come through the past few years with a new perspective on how work fits into their life. From my experience, they are looking for two main things out of their career,” Schaefer notes. “One, they are looking for a career that fits their lifestyle, not a lifestyle that works around their career and, two, candidates are looking for work with a purpose. They want their work/time to mean something and make a difference.”
Mosquito control staff at work in the spring.
Ault agrees. “I think employees want job flexibility and to work remotely, additional days off, and now with inflation being so high, competitive pay," she says, “Affordability of health insurance is also a big concern for employees.”
While the state has done quite a bit of research on work, mid-Michigan’s role in it and the rewards and incentives for enticing new and old workers into fields in which Ault’s concerns are addressed, incentivizing workers remains complex.
The state Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives in August published the “Michigan’s Hot 50 Job Outlook through 2030,” in which it lists alphabetically what is projected to be the 50 best fields for job growth between 2020 and 2030, and the training required to become proficient, pay ranges and and/or licensing requirements. While a good first step, prospective job seekers look at other information as well.
“Some employers have recently begun offering 100% remote work, which appeals to job seekers who feel like that schedule will help them accomplish #1 above and that may be true," Schaefer says, "I can confidently say the City of Midland offers meaningful work that directly impacts the community and its citizens. Our City employees work hard to make life better for their friends and neighbors and that's a nice accomplishment to hang your hat on at the end of the day.”
City of Midland Dial-A-Ride driver
So, how do you know who you are competing with for jobs, and which jobs are still sought? “That is the big question that no one really knows the answer to,” says Ault. “Many jobs have become undesirable and unfortunately there are more openings to fill those positions than applicants. I find it to be hit or miss with our job vacancies...Some vacancies get a lot of applicants (office workers, clerical, supervisors) and some get very few."
“Historically we have not had a lot of difficulty filling positions,” she adds. “There has been a significant drop in the number of applicants across the board for law enforcement openings. This is a national trend, not just a local trend.”
“The City has always been pretty fortunate to be able to find talented individuals to fill vacant positions. There are a wide variety of positions available with the city, such as those with the police department, fire department, parks & recreation, the library, maintenance, water and wastewater services, equipment operations and many more,” Schaefer says.
“It seems the positions that are easiest to fill are those in which candidates are most familiar and already, perhaps, understand what the position does on a daily basis, for example, positions at the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library," she adds.
Ault acknowledges that next year is shaping up similar to this year, “More retirements and employee turnover and continued struggle to retain employees in key positions."
Job postings can be found on the City