Reality of workforce recruitment

City of Florence reviews employment, celebrates staff

Nov. 9, 2022 — “This is what employment looks like during the pandemic,” City of Florence HR Manager Alex Ferguson said during the Oct. 17 Florence City Council meeting. He updated the council and staff on the state of employees at the City of Florence, which includes departments such as Public Works, the Florence Police Department and City Hall.

“Nearly 40 percent of our employees have less than two years of experience,” he said of the city’s 72 people employed at the time of meeting. 

Since 2020, there were 32 separations from the city, and while the city has been able to rehire to almost full capacity, there has been a “loss of institutional knowledge” during the process.

“I don't think it's a negative, it's just the reality of what we're working with in the pandemic,” Ferguson said. “And that kind of flips it to be positive. It's more of a tribute to the employees that members of the community very likely have not noticed that at all. That's just because we've got some really great staff that are able to pick up these pieces — but it's hard.”

The council meeting was a night of acknowledgement of that situation, both in the numbers that Ferguson provided, and the celebration the city had in recognizing its employees, from retirees to long-term employees.

“If you haven’t figured it out, it isn’t the city council that makes Florence an awesome place to live — it’s our city staff,” said Mayor Joe Henry. 

In statistics provided by Ferguson, 2020 was the most difficult year for hiring, with 9 separations, but only six recruitments, a net loss of three employees. 2021 fared better, with 10 separations and 11 hires, a net gain of one employee.

But in 2022, “You’ll notice a really big jump,” Ferguson said.

There were a total of 13 separations, both completed and planned, throughout the year. However, there were 17 total hires — a net gain of four.

As for the recruitment process itself, it’s time consuming. From posting an open position to start day, the process takes 84 days. Ferguson pointed out that the timeframe is actually quicker than the average recruitment for other governments that use the same NeoGov recruiting tool, which sits at 120 days.

“So we’re cutting almost a month off most of the other agencies that use NeoGov,” Ferguson said.

But there are still issues. Forty percent of applicants that the city sought to schedule an interview for dropped out of the process during the hiring phase.

“That's kind of the reality of workforce recruitment right now,” Ferguson said.

Overall, the city has made up for the losses that began in 2022, getting close to its full complement of 75 employees in total. At the time of the meeting, the city still had four total vacancies, two of which were still in active recruitment at the time of the meeting.

But the overall turnover, 32 separations in a three-year period, has “touched every department within the city,” Ferguson said.

While departments that were either fully or partially shuttered during the pandemic like the Florence Events Center recruited five new employees in 2022, Public Works also recruited five employees. Even smaller departments, such as the City Manager's Office and Community Development, each saw two recruitments in 2022.

“It's something that we've all felt in every department,” Ferguson said. “And keep in mind, a lot of our departments really aren't all that big. So replacing those two to five people, there's a lot and has a big impact on that.”

And it also means that nearly 40 percent of city employees are considered to be still learning their jobs.

Ferguson broke down the effectiveness of each employee in their careers.

In the first six months, an employee is learning day-to-day functions within the city and the effectiveness is low. It’s not until someone has worked six months to a year that employees start “figuring things out.”

After a year in the position employees start to become effective in their jobs, and at the two-year mark, they become fully effective.

However, of the 24 employees that have been hired since 2020, only two fell into the “full effective” rate. Twelve employees were still in the “learning day-to-day” function period, within the first six months of employment. Four employees were “starting to figure things out,” while six employees were just starting to be effective.

Many of the people that are still in the “being effective” rate learned from people who are no longer with the city, making it difficult for them to turn to the mentors who initially trained them.

“Just because of the way that things shifted, we've lost a lot of institutional knowledge over the last couple of years,” Ferguson said.

Other new employees are faced with learning their positions from employees who are still considered not “fully effective.”

“These employees are going to have to see and work through things the first time, maybe even by themselves, as they kind of experience all of this,” Ferguson said.

At the same time, the city is still dealing with COVID-19.

“Running through January of this year through Oct. 1, we've had the equivalent of one person out per week on COVID related leave,” Ferguson said.

On top of that, there were 1.75 full time equivalent employees out per week due to protected leave and workers compensation.

“So you're looking at 2.75 employees out per week at the city, in addition to 40 percent of our staff being within that first two years. You just need to pause at that point and just kind of really let that sink in,” Ferguson said. “Again, I don't think it's a negative or anything, it's just the reality of what we're working with in the pandemic.”

Ultimately, Ferguson believed that issues with city employment will eventually work out, but it might even drag out to be a little bit longer than that timeline, “just because we've lost a lot of institutional knowledge.”

In the meantime, Florence celebrated the institutional knowledge that still remains at the city. 

Before Ferguson gave his report to the council, the city recognized employees who were either celebrating milestone anniversaries, retiring from the city after long careers, or just starting with the city.

For current employees, there was Eric Rines, who has served 30 years with the city, 17 in the Planning Department, for which he was recently promoted. He was celebrated for his “strong work ethic” and his “depth and breadth of knowledge” of the city. 

Wendy FarleyCampbell was celebrating 20 years, who was promoted to Planning Director in 2017, and recently renamed Community Development Director. During her tenure, she served two active duty military service tours with the US Navy.

Florence Police Sgt. Brandon Ott celebrated 15 years of service, first starting as a reserve officer, then full time as a code enforcement officer. 

“He handled a lot of the very nasty, extreme cases for us, and in a very professional manner,” Police Chief John Pitcher said.

Public Work’s Larry Jensen also celebrated 15 years, starting off as the city’s first building maintenance employee, and has since branched out to multiple facets of the city, from wastewater facilities to maintaining the airport.

Finally, Jake Krieger and Justin Heacock celebrated 10 years of service.

Krieger started as a utility worker assigned to the streets, but has since worked on providing complete inspections for capital projects, such as sewer extension projects.

Heakock started as a wastewater treatment plant operator one, working his way up to becoming senior wastewater treatment plant operator.

Retiring from the city was Yolanda Ross, who started in 1995 as a 911 dispatcher, and has worked as a training officer.

“I’ve leaned on Yolanda’s experience and leadership to help guide our communication center,” Pitcher said. “I don’t think I could have done it without her.”

Next was Mark Durbin, who started in 2010 as a facilities worker.

“Mark has seen our lean times when it was just himself seasonally maintaining our parks,” Public Works Director Mike Miller said. “Mark’s experience working in mills and being a high school shop teacher has brought a wealth of knowledge to Public Works.”

Finally, there was Dewayne Barkemeyer, who was hired in 2016, coming in with experience from wastewater treatment plants in Astoria, California and Colorado.

“Through his experience and leadership, he has taken our facility and our operations team from being reactive to proactive in operations and maintenance,” Miller said.

As for his experience, Barkemeyer said, “Our public works department is the best public works department on the planet by far.”

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