A new audit found shortcomings in data collection but Honolulu HR chief says things are getting better.

When city auditors recently analyzed the 2,458 job vacancies across the City and County of Honolulu it found it would take an average of 139 days to fill one.

That was good news and bad news for Nola Miyasaki, director of Honolulu’s Department of Human Resources.

The good news: last August that was 3,000 vacancies and a 181-day wait.

The bad news: even the 2,458 vacancies may not be accurate because of years of poor data management.

The auditors “found that DHR does not maintain sufficient data to accurately report on the city’s staff vacancies.” Many errors originate from manual entry into four siloed software systems, and an unknown number of vacant positions are actually obsolete, the report found.

AlohaQ inside new 925 Dillingham Boulevard Satellite City Hall.
Auditors found that the city’s data on the number of vacancies was unreliable and incomplete. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021).

Even so, the audit gave Miyasaki – 16 months into her role – a fuller picture of the hiring challenges the department still faces. “To change something, we kind of have to know where we’re starting.”

While the department was still unable to meet a 90-day goal set by Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, she estimated the gap will have closed to 100 days by the end of July.

Much of the roadmap for the reforms came from a consultant’s report for the mayor that laid out hiring benchmarks last August. The city auditors had been asked to report back on progress and found that “DHR and other city agencies did not meet four key hiring and processing objectives established by the mayor, but improvements were made.”

Miyasaki said the department is streamlining internal processes and incentivizing recruitment and retention with new benefits and this last fiscal year is on track to have the first net-positive vacancy rate — more hirings than departures — in several cycles.

She credited Blangiardi’s priorities as an opportunity to finally modernize the department after years of neglect. “In the mix of so many things going on, things get done to meet the immediate needs, but not necessarily to step back and think about modernizing DHR.”

A Problem Going Back Years

Randy Perreira, executive director for the Hawaii Government Employees Association, said blame does not rest with the current administration. “What we’re seeing today is the result of decades of neglect,” he said.

But he said the city’s job classification system still stands in the way of offering higher salaries and benefits that keep up with the cost of living. He argues that despite the state essentially negotiating salary ranges for the city in collective bargaining, the city has wider latitude to keep wages competitive.

HFD Honolulu Fire Dept Engine 6 from Kalihi rolls on Waikamilo to a call.
The Honolulu Fire Department was one of the agencies that was reported in 2022 as having a vacancy rate of over 20%. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2023)

“They’ve been well behind in trying to take a look at the package that they offer, and then make adjustments over time to be a competitive employer,” Perreira said.

Honolulu’s vacancy rate has grown over years, losses from retirements and competition from the private sector, and the pandemic exacerbated the issue.

City and County of Honolulu Director of Customer relations Nola Miyasaki speaks during press conference held after Mayor Blangiardi’s first State of Honolulu speech.
Honolulu Department of Human Resources Director Nola Miyasaki faces challenges from an archaic system. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021)

Since becoming director, Miyasaki has temporarily hired retirees as contractors to help clear the bottleneck in processing vacancies and jumpstart greater efficiency department-wide.

“With any kind of new initiative, what I’ve learned is we have to get rid of the old stuff still sitting in the queue,” she said. “But it is much more involved than just reengineering processes.”

The department also implemented data dashboards that provide time-sensitive overviews of the hiring process. The dashboards integrate data from the four software systems as an accountability tool for real-time assessment of each stage of hiring.

The audit found that the dashboards can be misleading if the data sources are not cleaned up first.

As to the obsolete positions, Miyasaki said the onus for eliminating them rests with individual departments. The auditors recommended that both the mayor and DHR establish a formal process for abolishing jobs that don’t need to be filled.

Despite the years of neglect, Perreira is hopeful that positive changes can be made at DHR.

“I’m always an optimist,” he said. “It’s like turning an aircraft carrier — it isn’t going to change overnight.”

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