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Fri, Feb

What is the Future of Work?

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-The world is always changing, and the future of how people work in Los Angeles even more so in response to the pandemic. Working remotely, which has been growing as an option since the advent of the internet, has been fast-tracked in the stay-at-home world. 

A significant number of positions handled by the Personnel Department for the City can be performed from home. Others cannot. 

When the Budget Advocates met with the Personnel Department before “coronavirus” entered our daily vocabulary, they asked the question, “What is the future of Work?” 

Today, the answer has far greater significance, both in staffing needs and in the infrastructure required to deliver City services to Angelenos. 

And how priorities must change. 

Existing goals the Personnel Department must continue to pursue are: 

  • Increased emphasis on employee retention 
  • Developing non-management career paths so employees who are not interested in management have the ability to advance their careers 
  • Succession planning and the transfer of institutional knowledge as more experienced personnel take retirement across all departments 
  • Emphasizing a consistent approach to human resources services in the 24 departments that they serve 

To these, they now must add: 

  • Matching existing employees to new jobs 
  • Retraining or adding skills so people can perform in a new environment 
  • Encouraging employee buy-in of new programs and policies 
  • Increasing resources for employee health and security both in their job space and on the streets near City Hall 
  • Leadership development and training focusing on a brave new world 

Personnel must also prioritize a vastly improved interface with the other departments to address both past concerns and learn how to navigate in this uncertain future. First and foremost, it needs to continue its implementation of continuous testing, so new employees are available as needed by the departments.

Given the inherent inefficiencies associated with civil service testing and related gatekeeper procedures, qualified candidates often end up accepting other jobs while waiting.  

If nothing else, Personnel should develop and maintain a rolling list of preapproved hires, those whose successful score on the civil service exam means they are eligible for employment, to ensure they are still actively seeking employment and meet then-needed skills when a department needs to hire. 

When the job market is tight, which it will continue to be for certain positions, the department needs to become nimbler to fulfill its mission. 

Also, in conjunction with the City Council, Personnel must work to remove the obstacles in the City’s hiring process. 

And it should develop ways to protect valued and experienced employees from being poached by the proprietary departments and other jurisdictions that offer higher salaries and better benefits. 

As a delayed after-effect of the Great Recession lay-offs, all City departments are facing high levels of retirements now and for the next few years. In a time of fiscal uncertainty, it may also look wise to lay off senior staff who make the most money. 

But that is a false economy when the City stands to lose all that knowledge and institutional experience along with them. 

The City Council must authorize Personnel to develop and implement a requirement that, to ensure vital information is not lost, all new employees must work with departing employees as part of their job training. 

Finally, the department must lead the way out of the City’s siloization approach that has reinforced a sclerotic bureaucracy, by sharing lists across jurisdictions – county, state and national -- especially important in a work-from-home world. 

Ways in which the Department can contribute to the City’s bottom line include: 

  • Streamlining training to reduce costs and increase efficiency 
  • Removing as many roadblocks as possible from the civil service procedures 
  • Expanding harassment and related trainings to reduce the costs of addressing and settling liability claims 
  • Developing specific programs to address concerns regarding employee safety both within and outside their workplaces 
  • Placing greater emphasis on finding grants and writing grant applications with existing staff 

What IS the future of work? The permutations on both the conceptual and City scale are mind-boggling and, at least at this moment in time, totally unpredictable. 

It’s easy to say that only time will tell, but now that time is coming faster than anyone could have foretold. 

It takes time for a siloized bureaucracy to ramp up to pivot, so the Los Angeles Personnel Department must start preparing to get out in front of this challenge or the City will be left behind.

 

(The Budget Advocates are an elected, all volunteer, independent advisory body charged with making constructive recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council regarding the Budget, and to City Departments on ways to improve their operations, and with obtaining input, updating and educating all Angelenos on the City’s fiscal management.) Graphic: Working Nation. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.