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State and Local Governments Try New Approaches to Attract Job Candidates as Acute Public Workforce Shortages Linger, New Report Finds

Agency Hiring Increases, But Public Employee Quits and Retirements Also Rise

June 29, 2023

State and local governments continue to face severe labor shortages and are deploying new strategies to attract and retain public service workers. State and local governments hired more full-time or part-time staff in 2022 than in 2021, but it was more common for agencies to report that quits and retirements increased rather than decreased. Jurisdictions also reported deploying new strategies to widen the pool of job candidates, such as dropping degree requirements (46% for state agencies) for some positions.

These findings are detailed in a new research report, State and Local Workforce: 2023 Survey Findings. This survey of public sector human resources professionals has been conducted annually since 2009 by MissionSquare Research Institute in collaboration with the Public Sector HR Association (PSHRA) and the National Association of State Personnel Executives (NASPE). Authored by Gerald Young, Senior Research Analyst with MissionSquare Research Institute, the survey tracks key recruitment and retention challenges facing state and local governments, along with strategies to manage and compensate staff.

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The state and local government human resources professionals surveyed for the research also reported the most difficult positions to fill include policing (78%), corrections/jails (77%), nursing (75%), engineering (73%), driving/equipment operation (72%), skilled trades (71%), and dispatch (71%).

"It’s troubling to witness the continued challenges hiring and keeping employees to deliver the essential public services our nation’s communities rely upon. But I’m encouraged that public officials are taking aggressive action to combat the challenges — from offering hiring bonuses to changing job requirements," said Deanna J. Santana, MissionSquare Retirement Acting Chief Executive Officer and President. "It’s reassuring that policymakers are sustaining retirement and other benefits, which are widely considered to be competitive and a magnet for public employees."

Key survey findings are as follows:

  • A larger percentage of respondents indicated that they hired more full-time or part-time staff in 2022 than in 2021, but it was more common for organizations to report that quits and retirements increased rather than decreased. The hiring of new, permanent staff was reported by 85% of jurisdictions, which exceeds levels reported since this data was first collected in the 2014 survey.
  • Slightly more than half (55%) of respondents said their agency’s compensation is competitive, while most (89%) indicated the benefit offerings are competitive.
  • Salary bumps were prevalent, with 62% reporting broad-based pay increases.
  • Hiring bonuses are offered in a targeted manner (29%) or more broadly (5%), but only 16% are analyzing data on the total cost and effectiveness of bonuses as a recruiting tool.
  • More than one-third (36%) reported an increase in the time to hire job candidates, and 51% reported frequent re-opening of recruitments because of insufficient qualified candidates.
  • To help address staff shortages, agencies are reviewing all aspects of job descriptions. Sixty-five percent reported performing compensation or classification studies, 42% updated specifications for requisite education and skills, 29% dropped degree requirements for at least some positions, and 20% hired below minimum qualifications for post-hiring upskilling.
  • 53% of respondents are expecting a wave of retirements during the next several years. For retirement-eligible employees, 35% are accelerating retirement plans.

"The survey data collected on the public sector workforce is so important for developing new strategies to solve the unprecedented workforce challenges facing public sector employers," said PSHRA CEO Cara Woodson Welch. "PSHRA and its members will leverage this new information to continue driving the conversation on pragmatic solutions to attract and retain public service employees."

"As states continue to struggle filling essential jobs, this new report provides actionable insights for leaders," said NASPE Executive Director Leslie Scott Parker. "For example, it’s clear that re-thinking job descriptions and dropping degree requirements is an emerging strategy for many jurisdictions that could help fill positions. It’s also clear that public sector salaries across the board finally are increasing and that workforce challenges likely will be long-term given the wave of retirements."

The survey was conducted from March 10 through April 25, 2023, with a total of 249 state and local government human resource staff respondents.

MissionSquare Research Institute promotes excellence in state and local government and other public service organizations to attract and retain talented employees. The organization identifies leading practices and conducts research on retirement plans, health and wellness benefits, workforce demographics and skill set needs, labor force development, and topics facing the not-for-profit industry and education sector. MissionSquare Research Institute brings together leaders and respected researchers. More information and access to research and publications are available at

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