City Employment Survey Results

City halls to post “Help Wanted” signs, but will applicants respond?

New survey shows respect—yet scarce enthusiasm—for city employment among Minnesotans

(August 4, 2008—Saint Paul, MN) Current demographic trends indicate that Minnesota city governments will face significant labor shortages in the coming years. Complicating this forecast is the fact that most state residents—while indicating very favorable attitudes toward the work of city government—show little interest themselves in working for cities, according to a recent survey conducted by the League of Minnesota Cities.

Seventy-one (71) percent of respondents rated the job performance of city staff as “good” or “excellent,” while 14 percent rated it as “fair” or “poor.” A similarly high number showed favorable attitudes toward the work of elected officials. When asked how much they approve of the work of the mayor and the city council, 77 percent indicated that they approve “somewhat” or “strongly” while only 15 percent disapproved “somewhat” or “strongly.”

The survey showed an overwhelming majority of 81 percent of respondents would be willing to recommend a job in city government to young people. However, when respondents were asked if they themselves had considered working for city government, only 31 percent replied they had. Among frequent reasons given were that respondents “like their current job” or were simply “not interested.”

“Our survey shows that we have work to do in terms of providing information about great employment opportunities in city government not only for young people, but for those already engaged in the workforce” said Todd Prafke, City Administrator in St. Peter and Past President of the League. “In addition to the more highly visible career options like public safety and public works, our cities need to effectively promote employment opportunities in administration, communications, and technology as well.”

A national survey recently completed by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (www.slge.org) generally showed a greater level of enthusiasm among respondents for the possibility of seeking a career in local government (not specified as city or county) than did the League’s survey. The Center’s study showed that 58 percent of respondents were either “very” or “somewhat” interested in taking a job in local government.

The League and the Center conducted these surveys knowing that cities are bracing for an increase in the number of employee retirements, along with a coinciding increase in the demand for public services among aging populations. Minnesota local governments currently have fewer young workers and more older workers than the private sector, echoing a national trend. According to data from the Public Employment Retirement Association (PERA), in almost half of the cities in the state about one in four employees is over the age of 50 – in 150 Minnesota cities, that number rises to two in four employees. The pool of employees available to city governments will also be affected by whether a region or a particular city is growing, remaining stable, or losing population.

Though the anticipated labor shortage has yet to fully impact most cities, there are some job classifications already causing recruitment headaches for city officials. “City engineering staff, from the top City Engineer position to engineering technicians, is currently in short supply and high demand,” said Laura Kushner, Human Resources Director for the League of Minnesota Cities. “Shortages in electric line workers are also already being felt in some areas of the state.”

The League’s survey questions were asked as part of a broader research study administered by Decision Resources, Ltd. to 800 residents of Minnesota cities. The League hopes to use the survey results to learn more about Minnesotans’ knowledge and perception of city government, and to learn how member cities can continue to provide high-quality constituent service.

About the League

The League of Minnesota Cities is a membership organization dedicated to promoting excellence in local government through effective advocacy, expert analysis, and trusted guidance for all Minnesota cities. The League serves its more than 830 members through advocacy, education and training, policy development, risk management and other services.

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