County creates new career ladder to stem turnover

A career ladder has been established in the Anoka County Economic Assistance Department in an effort to stem the high turnover rate of employees.

The Anoka County Board Jan. 8 signed off on the recommendation from its management and human services committees which was proposed by Jerry Vitzthum, economic assistance department director.

Not only does the action put in place a new career ladder, it also adds financial incentives for financial assistance specialists and child support officers in the department to stay.

Specifically, the board approved a one-step career ladder adjustment with a 3 percent pay increase for eligible financial assistance specialists and child support officers and a one-time cash payment for staff who are at their pay range maximum to be implemented in 2013.

“This is an incentive for people to stick around,” said Anoka County Commissioner Robyn West, chairperson of the Management Committee.

According to Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah, who also chairs the Human Services Committee, the turnover rate has been a problem for the department, especially as it takes a year of training before employees are in a position to do the job without help.

But the career ladder incentives, which provide opportunities for growth within the department, do require that the employee take on added responsibilities and have a high performance level in order to qualify, Sivarajah said.

Vitzthum, in a report to the county board, described the turnover rate for financial assistance specialists and child support officers as significant and said that exit surveys show that staff feel a great deal of stress due to rising case loads and high staff turnover.

Limited promotional opportunities were also cited as a reason why staff have left, according to Vitzthum.

Indeed, Vitzthum wrote that 53 percent of staff in these positions have been with the department for less than four years.

“This high turnover and lack of experienced staff has resulted in a high program error rate,” he wrote.

“These errors impact funding that is received from the federal government and puts us in jeopardy of fiscal sanctions.”

Hiring and training staff is a significant cost to the department because of the year it takes for the employees to be ready to manage a full caseload – $62,000 for salary and benefits, according to Vitzthum.

“There is a considerable amount of staff time involved in recruiting and hiring new staff as well as the cost of staff time to train new hires,” Vitzthum wrote.

Indeed, when a staff member leaves the estimated cost to train a replacement is $30,000 plus one year’s salary until they are fully trained for a total of $92,000, of which the county’s share is $46,000, he wrote.

There are additional costs of turnover through the payment of overtime and hiring temporary staff to get the work done, Vitzthum wrote.

“If the department could reduce the number of people that leave by two a year, there would be a savings to the county,” he wrote.

According to Vitzthum, the financial incentives are projected to cost $95,361, with the county’s share being $44,181.

There is enough money in the department’s 2013 budget to pay for the salary adjustments, Vitzthum stated in his report.

According to Sivarajah, new technology used by the department should also help to reduce stress levels and a new phone system, which can automatically answers questions from clients without the need of a staff person to do so, will free up staff time.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]

  • Coon Rapids Resident

    Anoka County has been a wonderful place to provide training for employees to move on to other counties and the state.

  • Just remember that when climbing that career ladder to make sure it is leaning against the right wall first. There is nothing like getting to the top and realising it wasn’t where you wanted to be.