Saugus seeks good, qualified candidates to fill 16 full-time professional positions in town government
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Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree said finding reliable and qualified help continues to be an ongoing challenge for him. This week, the town website posted 16 full-time positions – including some critical ones like town engineer, town planner, Council on Aging Director and the recycling coordinator.
“Saugus is experiencing similar challenges in filling positions as the private sector, like fast food chains and coffee shops,” Crabtree said in an interview this week.
“It can be a problem – not only on the local – but on a state and national level,” he said.
“Sometimes the candidates we are considering are looking for flexible schedules and benefits that municipalities can’t accommodate as easily as the private sector,” he said.
Human Resources Director Tony Wyman said this week that the jobs list posted on the website includes the most vacant positions the town has seen during his two years working for the town. “A lot of employees we hear from say they’d like to have the flexibility of working from home,” Wyman said.
“You can’t run town government from home. Employees feel that they want to work in a certain atmosphere, and they want to work from home. But for most town governments, that’s not an option,” he said.
“Everyone has to work in the building. The landscape has changed dramatically since COVID-19,” he said.
Filling core positions in town government has been a top priority in recent years for the town manager and the Board of Selectmen. Selectmen have encouraged Crabtree to increase pay for key positions in order to attract job candidates to Saugus. But just when salaries are increased, good workers are lured away to work in neighboring communities at a higher pay and enhanced benefits.
“I’m concerned with all vacancies, as no town can function properly with this many job openings,” Cogliano said in an interview this week.
“The Senior Center has a qualified applicant that has been in an assistant role for years and can step right in without missing a beat,” Cogliano said, referring to Lauri Davis, Senior Center Director Joanne Olsen’s longtime assistant.
“It’s sad that there are that many positions available…obviously, people are not happy with their work environment. Is it money, morale, leadership? …I’m not sure…but it’s not healthy and needs to be addressed and resolved sooner than later,” Cogliano said.
“These are key positions that should always be full. Hopefully, the TM has some qualified applicants to step right in. I’m also not a fan of keeping someone on as a consultant after they leave for greener pastures. Let them go and go fast. If they don’t want to be here, keep moving and hire someone that does,” he said.
Selectman Corinne Riley said the challenges that Saugus faces are global. “It’s difficult everywhere, not just in municipalities,” Riley said.
“There are lots of reasons including salary, professional growth opportunities and some employees are incentivized to stay where they are. Ideally, we’d retain more critical employees longer and when we do need to hire, we’d be a destination community for prospective employees, so they’d come to us,” Riley said. “Until that happens, potential options include advertising ourselves, offering incentives to existing employees to refer new employees, offering new-hires sign-on bonuses or other compensation, and using third-party agencies.”
Each of these options has a cost, according to Riley, but she said there is also a cost to leaving critical roles unfilled. “It’s not the role of the Board of Selectmen to dictate how to overcome these challenges, so I’d defer to the Town Manager and his staff as to how to address this issue. What I will say is that the issue needs to be addressed,” Riley said.
Riley stressed that it’s not unusual to have a number of openings – “But in some cases, we have ongoing problems attracting and retaining talent, like the Planning Department. Having recently received MAPC guidance on our Town Wide Master Plan, it is critical that we have effective Planning and Engineering departments.”
“The Town Wide Master Plan provides a framework for short, medium, and long term goals. We’ll need in-house experts to evaluate the needs and potential of existing facilities like our school buildings that have been turned back to the Town,” she said. “We’ll also need expertise to evaluate options and provide direction on potential new facilities like a West-side Fire Station. These things take time and effort to plan, and as far as I know, no one is working on them. We need these roles filled.”