| 2015 Q3 | story by MEGAN GILLILAND, City of Lawrence Communications Manager | photos City of Lawrence

Recruiting for the public sector has changed during the past few decades with applicants and employers seeking to understand challenging work environments.

Recruiting for the public sector isn’t particularly unique or different from the private sector. Just ask Lori Carnahan, human resources manager for the City of Lawrence. It takes time to cultivate processes that provide a large applicant pool, promote diversity, reduce bias in the hiring process and, ultimately, find the most qualified candidates for the dozens of positions hired each year in local municipal government, she explains.

The City of Lawrence is the community’s fourth largest employer, with 806 full-time employees and 896 part-time employees. The city’s Human Resources Division coordinates the hiring process for a multitude of jobs that range in scope and technical ability. With 10 departments, from Finance to Public Works, the human resources staff has a daily challenge of sorting applicants and working to recruit a skilled workforce to serve the greater Lawrence community.

“We do a lot of things at the front end of our recruitment process to ensure we have a deep candidate pool for our positions,” Carnahan says. “We actively review our compensation and benefit packages to make sure that we are competitive in the market. While there are some areas that are challenging for us, overall, we are generally successful in recruiting candidates who want to work for our community and have a long tenure in the city once hired.”

The city relies on traditional methods to recruit candidates, including online job postings and career fairs; however, many departments have begun working to develop relationships with young members of the community to inspire an interest in public careers, including police, fire and EMS (emergency medical services) work.

“In 2001, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical [LDCFM] created Explorer Post No. 2555, which allows area youth to gain insight into a possible career while at the same time providing leadership training,” says Shaun Coffey, division chief with LDCFM. “For young people who are interested in careers in the field of fire services and emergency medical services, exploring offers worksite experiential learning with lots of fun-filled, hands-on activities. Overall, this is a program that helps youth pursue their special interests, grow and develop.”

The city has relied on social media in the past few years to help spread the word when it is hiring. Its “Lawrence City Jobs” Facebook page has regular postings, and job seekers can sign up to receive automatic email alerts when a job becomes available at

“We try very hard to cast the net very wide to get the best candidates possible,” Carnahan says. “We use trade journals, advertising with professional organizations, electronic media and other specialized resources to promote our job postings. We’ve had great feedback on the use of our online job application system at”

Most recently, departments have begun offering tours of facilities and preapplication tours with candidates to discuss job hours and the work environment, as well as meeting with other employees to gain a clear understanding of the work required. These efforts have been very positive and help with longevity and decrease turnover.

“Due to the nature of our work, we oftentimes bring in potential candidates to review the work environment or meet with other employees,” Carnahan explains. “It is incredibly important that candidates have a clear understanding of work, processes, environment and a nontraditional schedule, if that is required.”

The city has a set of goals that drive its recruitment efforts, including increasing female and minority applicants in selection pools, developing benefit and compensation strategies that attract and retain quality employees, and keeping turnover rates low as a whole.

“We struggle in some areas despite our best efforts,” Carnahan says. “Our workforce is 80 percent male and 20 percent female across the organization. We work to attract females into many of our career fields including engineering, public works and public safety. We want to mirror our community when it comes to racial diversity, and, most of the time, we meet those goals.”

One of the areas that is challenging to the local municipal workforce is finding candidates for highly skilled trades, including equipment operators.

“Some of our public works positions have a smaller pool that just a few decades ago,” Carnahan explains. “We have found that an abundance of people are choosing to obtain college educations instead of skilled trade work. These types of positions are still very valuable to our organization.”

Another challenge for the City of Lawrence is hiring seasonal employees. The city hires hundreds of employees to work in seasonal Parks and Recreation positions.

“This type of work is usually demanding work for a period of time during the season but not full-time, year-round work,” Carnahan says.

Oftentimes, city employees deal with the public during a time of crisis—traffic stops, utility billing problems, damage to property or theft, etc. Certain jobs require people who can handle challenging situations and crisis scenarios. There are protocols in place to test applicants to find out how they react to situations to ensure they are right for the job.

“We always require references, background checks, driving record checks and drug screens to ensure that we’re bringing safe employees into our workforce and community,” Carnahan says.

There are some fields that are more challenging than others, including engineering and information technology. The city tries to remain competitive, but the private sector outpaces the city for benefits and compensation.

“What we know about public-sector employees is that they choose this line of work because they value their community,” Carnahan says. “We are an employer of choice with solid compensation, we pay attention to safety, we offer a stable work environment with good working conditions and we provide a benefit package that allows people to live and work in the area, and raise a family, etc. These factors certainly make our job as a recruiter easier.”

As part of the city’s commitment to hire a qualified workforce, there are certain aspects of the Lawrence community that are beneficial to recruiting.

“It is helpful to be a university community,” Carnahan says. “We always have applicants with an excess of minimum qualifications. Our labor pool in the community provides educated employees, and our departments have well-educated employees at all levels in the organization.”

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