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Local agencies hope to mitigate staffing woes

Mark Parker

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A St. Petersburg Police Department cruiser sits outside of Al Lang Stadium. The SPPD is one of over 20 local agencies participating in an Aug. 4 career fair. Photo by Mark Parker.

Like many employers throughout the area and nation, local government agencies and first responders face what Kristopher Lucas, Chief Operating Officer for CareerSource Pinellas, calls unprecedented challenges.

To help mitigate some of the “record vacancies,” CareerSource is bringing over 20 area agencies, first responders and colleges together for an extensive career fair on Aug. 4 at the Central Park Performing Arts Center in Largo.

Amy Leuschke, business services supervisor for CareerSource, noted the Department of Juvenile Justice recently reached out to her organization due to a critical staffing shortage, with around 500 vacancies. She said that represents 35-40% of its total workforce.

“Since then, CareerSource boards across Florida have been coming together to provide critical support to this agency,” said Leuschke. “As CareerSource Pinellas began developing the career fair, contacting other law enforcement and first responder agencies, we quickly realized shortages across the region.”

Those shortages are not unique to that employment sector, added Leuschke, but are present throughout various industries across the nation. She said career fairs benefit both employers and job seekers as they provide networking opportunities, a chance to sharpen interviewing skills and valuable industry insights.

The Pinellas County Transit Authority (PSTA) is one of the many regional organizations participating in the upcoming career fair. Stephanie Rank, public communications coordinator, noted an uptick in retirements over the past few years and said her company is having difficulty finding suitable replacements.

“As everyone is aware, there are lots of opportunities in the market, so we are competing with lots of other companies,” said Rank. “People have more choices than ever before.”

To remain competitive, Rank said PSTA recently increased bus operator pay. New hires will now make $18 per hour after training, and she said that after 49 months, drivers are earning $60,000 annually, not including overtime.

Rank added that PSTA offers yearly raises for every position within the organization, along with retirement plans and health packages.

PSTA has increased wages to remain competitive throughout the region. Photo by Veronica Brezina.

The St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) is another agency participating in the upcoming career fair. However, Liz Ledee, staff and screening supervisor, said the organization is not seeing a shortage of applicants.

“Our applications have almost doubled over the past couple of years,” said Ledee. “We are experiencing numerous retirements, so the difficulty seems to be in hiring, training and putting the new officers on the street in a timely manner to offset the vacancies.”

Ledee said the SPPD typically receives 300-400 annual applications and has accepted 727 since July 2021. She attributed new state-wide law enforcement incentives to an increase in out-of-state applicants.

Applicants are aware of the higher cost of living in St. Petersburg, said Ledee, but none have expressed that was a determining factor for moving to the area. However, she said that some applicants have looked to nearby counties with lower living costs as an alternative.

“Even though we are not lacking in applications at this time, we want to ensure that we will continue to have a competitive pool of applicants to choose from,” added Ledee.

The City of Tampa approves 18.5% pay raises

In addition to workforce shortages due to post-pandemic hiring issues and mass retirements, employers also face stiff competition for available workers.

According to a July 6 CNBC report citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data from May, job openings fell sharply from April but still vastly outnumbered available workers. Despite the decline, the article states there were 1.9 vacancies for every prospective employee.

To keep pace with historic inflation, soaring housing costs and a competitive job market, the Tampa City Council approved an 18.5% raise for the city’s union workers on July 28.

That includes Tampa’s law enforcement officers, firefighters and transit and sanitation workers – all agencies represented in the upcoming CareerSource Pinellas career fair. Those workers will receive a 9.5% raise this year, followed by an additional 4.5% in each of the next two years.

CareerSource, funded entirely through federal grants, planned the career fair before Tampa officials voted on the increase. Rank said PSTA applauds the city across the bay for raising its wages and noted her organization approved a significant pay hike for employees in March, valued at $10,886,976 over the contract’s term.

“That’s great news for workers,” said Rank. “We are committed to fair, equitable and competitive pay.”

Ledee said the SPPD is also increasing its wages.

“Currently, our city and union are in negotiations but have agreed upon increases for the next three years,” she said.

While the raise is pending final approval, Ledee said it would keep St. Petersburg’s police force competitive with Tampa’s and noted an $8,000 bonus for previously certified officers.

“The department offers other monetary benefits and incentives,” added Ledee. “Such as paying for the applicant’s academy tuition, books and uniforms, as well as salary and benefits while they are attending the academy. All of these things should be considered when an applicant makes a decision on what department would suit them best.”

For more information on the CareerSource Pinellas job fair, visit the website here.

After participating in that event, PSTA is hosting another career fair on Aug. 10, with 21 similar employers. For more information, visit the website here.

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