A cumbersome and bureaucratic employment process is slowing the hiring of the 3,000 additional workers critically needed by Honolulu city government.

In fact, it takes on average about six months to make employment offers for vacant city slots, according to a new report by an outside personnel consultant.

City cabinet officials were briefed Wednesday morning on the findings of the consultant, Abdurrehman Naveed, a graduate student in public policy from the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, who was brought to Hawaii two months ago to analyze the city’s hiring roadblocks. A longer version of the same report was presented to Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Mike Formby, Honolulu’s managing director.

Poor recruitment efforts and long hiring delays leave holes in the city’s workforce. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Naveed came to Honolulu at the request of Blangiardi, who said that fixing and improving the city’s employee recruitment and retention programs are key to helping solve the city’s other problems, including finding solutions for the city’s homeless population and increasing its stock of affordable housing.

“If we get this right, and correct it, it (will be) a real and lasting contribution because right now, it is not going in a good direction,” Blangiardi said Wednesday in an interview with the Civil Beat Editorial Board. The mayor has said the city had been hiring 600 people each year but lost more than that to attrition and retirement.

Blangiardi said that when he became mayor in early 2020, he was shocked to learn the city had no recruitment program. The city did not participate in university internship programs, a key tool that many employers use to identify promising young workers, and officials had stopped participating in job fairs, he said.

The city’s long-time failure to establish a system for tracking and measuring hiring performance is at the core of its problems, Naveed told city officials.

“In my very first week, it became apparent that no data-driven, comprehensive study had previously been undertaken by the City to assess the true nature of the bottlenecks impacting its civil service recruitment,” Naveed wrote to Blangiardi in late July.

He told city officials they must re-engineer hiring processes and policies, establish baselines to measure recruitment performance and provide “targeted and tailored training” to help department heads learn how to fill vacant positions with qualified employees.

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” Naveed told city officials at the cabinet meeting, according to text from the powerpoint presentation he made to city officials.

Hiring problems are evident throughout the city government, Blangiardi said, underscoring the need to streamline bureaucratic processes.

“What we have come to understand is why it doesn’t work, and where it breaks down,” he said.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi talks to the Civil Beat Editorial Board and reporters, Aug. 3, 2022, at Civil Beat's office.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi talks to the Civil Beat staff about city personnel challenges. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2022

Naveed found employment gridlock in many government agencies, in addition to problems at Budget and Financial Services and in Human Resources, the city’s core personnel agencies.

It takes the Department of Parks and Recreation, which has a 17% job vacancy, an average of 69 days to complete the paperwork to begin the process of filling vacant positions, he found.

Eight other departments took two weeks to a month to fill out that same paperwork, including 28 days at the Department of Customer Service and 26 days at the Department of Facilities Management. Almost a fifth of the jobs at DFM are vacant.

Filling out the paperwork improperly adds even more to the delays, Naveed found.

When the Honolulu Police Department, where almost a third of the slots are open, made errors in the original hiring paperwork, it took on average two days to correct the mistakes and re-submit the paperwork, Naveed reported. At the parks department, it took 10 days.

CORRECTION: A previous version of the story incorrectly said it took more than 30 days for HPD to make the fixes.

Once department heads get the okay to fill a slot, the employee screening process begins. This takes an average of 49 days, the consultant found.

Then it takes an average of 31 days to post the job opening. And another 30 days on average to refer qualified job candidates to department heads.

The interview process typically takes 70 days, the consultant found.

But it is considerably longer in some departments, such as the office of prosecuting attorney, where it lasts 102 days, the Department of Design and Construction, 93 days, and the Department of Environmental Services, 83 days.

The three agencies with the fastest interview schedule are the Liquor Commission, which typically interviews candidates within 43 days; the Royal Hawaiian Band, in 42 days and the Department of Emergency Management, 40 days.

Nola Miyasaki, the city’s human resources director, said she was surprised to learn which departments took longer to replace workers and which could do it more quickly. She said that in some cases, hiring takes longer because the positions are specific and complex, and that some departments have so many vacancies on the senior level they don’t have enough people to make hiring decisions. Other delays have less obvious reasons.

“We’re not sure why some take longer,” she said. “Our next step is to drill down, diagnose and identify where those bottlenecks are.”

Miyasaki said Naveed’s analysis has been helpful.

“It’s been phenomenal,” she said. “For the work we are tasked with for the mayor it is so insightful and extremely helpful. To be able to pull the data the way he did, and take a deep dive into the data, allows us to piece together the bigger puzzle. That is the talent he brought to us — we have a road map now and know what we need to do to get there.”

Hiring delays have real-world consequences not just for job-seekers but also for city residents.

Unfilled job vacancies at the parks department, for example, meant that 2,000 fewer kids were able to participate in the Summer Fun program this year than city officials originally hoped.

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