We Can’t Solve High Job Vacancies By Staying Stuck In The Past - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Randy Perreira

Randy Perreira is executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

Government needs to figure out how to attract the next generation of workers

The City and County of Honolulu recently touted its efforts to slightly reduce its job vacancy rate, which they calculated at 23%. And while they were successful in cutting down the hiring timeline, there has been little effort to resolve some of the major issues that make these jobs unattractive in an age where our concept of work was reshaped by a global pandemic. 

Overall vacancy rates remain high across jurisdictions: 27.1% at Hawaii Health Systems Corporation, 26.3% at the Department of Education, 25.1% at Hawaii County and 20.9% in the Judiciary. 

In extreme cases when workplace issues are ignored for too long, public workers and the average taxpaying citizen bear the brunt of the consequences. For instance, the Hawaii Government Employees Association has reports of Hawaii County dispatchers working 13 days straight with no days off, 12-hour shifts with no lunch breaks, and being asked to wear headsets to the bathroom.

When public servants forgo their own dignity and basic human needs because it could mean the difference between life or death for emergency callers, you have to ask what officials are prioritizing. 

Capitol job fair 4th floor. 4 may 2016.
A jobs fair at the Hawaii State capitol. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat2016)

While we hear about efforts to increase recruitment, officials mired in a traditional mindset of work stall progress to improve working conditions for employees who provide essential public services.

The Hawaii Senate Ways and Means Committee’s outdated views on telework is one example of this. Citing complaints and a publicity stunt by state senators who visited the state Consumer Advocate’s office in the fall of 2021 to find the majority of staff teleworking, the committee set their sights on telework management this session

The Department of Human Resources Development is now proposing development of a telework monitoring system pilot program with an estimated price tag of $1 million per participating department. In other words, they found a way to waste money on a relatively budget-neutral work benefit. 

As an executive director, I don’t need to purchase fancy equipment to monitor the work of my staff and tell me how long it takes for someone to finish writing a report. If their work can be done remotely, I’m more than happy to provide them that flexibility. 

Employees As “Scapegoats”

Instead of working on innovative ways to make jobs more attractive to a new generation of workers, officials ignore growing problems and use employees as scapegoats. Councilmember Calvin Say even went so far as to blame higher property tax valuations on the modest raises of city workers, a baseless allegation that he later retracted.

In the meantime, these same officials find the time to pass proposals with exorbitant pay raises for themselves at the City and County of Honolulu and the Department of Education. Council members expecting a 64% raise while there are about 350 government jobs that make $20 per hour or less is appalling.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen, whose county faces a daunting vacancy estimate of 700, definitely gets that something needs to change. Maui is offering a nice $20 per hour wage to recruit more employees for Summer Fun.

Workers want a better quality of life and a livable wage.

But this move brings a stark reality into focus: a plethora of jobs in county and state government from 911 emergency response operators to educational assistants pay less than what these summer attendants will make.

To stop chronic understaffing from reaching a point of crisis as it has with Hawaii County dispatchers or the Department of Planning and Permitting, government needs to figure out how to attract the next generation of workers. 

Workers, especially younger ones, want a better quality of life and a livable wage. It’s time that officials look at ways to make this happen for public workers. If nothing changes now, problems will only get worse. 

We talk a lot about making Hawaii a better place to live and work, but there is little action, especially by officials, on making that a reality. 

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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About the Author

Randy Perreira

Randy Perreira is executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

Latest Comments (0)

As a retired county worker I will say this. The biggest problem is that there are lots of workers that should retire and do not. Now I know everyone their individual situation is different, but you have those that have no life beyond work. They have no spouse, kids and they stay. This creates issues, if you are younger you are looking at upward mobility and this person has 35 or 40 years would you stay? I worked for HPD we had lots of civilian employees that had worked for 3o+ years or more. These individuals also do not know how to leverage technology, and are not receptive or new ideas that can make the office function more efficiently. You want to fix the issue? They need to put a cap or make it so after so many years it does not benefit you to stay. As far as those days to work a C&C or State job to get a pension and benefits they closed that door I think you need to have at least 15 years now to be fully vested.

KT96817 · 6 months ago

It's never been the pay, but those lifetime benefits and pension that make people look to the city/state for work, many as a second career after retiring from the private sector. It's fits well into the mindset of just putting in your 8-4 daily, getting 14 paid holidays per year, 3 weeks vacation to start and a generous sick leave that never expires. In other words you don't work hard, strive to achieve, or excel, just do the status quo and don't rock the boat. That's why they can't attract young, motivated employees and why they are attractive to those looking to retire with benefits.

wailani1961 · 6 months ago


Fairhouser · 6 months ago

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