'It's gotten much, much worse': Many local industries face increased staff vacancies

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The now coined 'Great Resignation' has impacted almost every industry in 2021. As individuals take stock of their lives and values, they are leaving jobs at rapid rates. The impact is leaving many industries scrambling to fill the gaps.

Local governments are no exception.

The ABC11 I-Team obtained staff vacancies for the six major municipalities in the area and uncovered that a majority are reporting more vacancies now than a year ago.

The City of Fayetteville was the only municipality to report fewer openings now than this time last year.

Durham County reported the largest increase in staff vacancies with 112 additional open positions than last December. The City of Durham, Wake County and Cumberland County each reported around a 20% increase in staff vacancies.



Raleigh has 603 vacant positions but the city was unable to provide vacancies for previous years.

The reality of these statistics is something Fayetteville transit director Randy Hume and his staff feels daily.

"We were having problems, difficulty hiring drivers even before the pandemic, but it's gotten much, much worse," said Hume.

Hume has been in public transit for 44 years and said he hasn't experienced anything like the changes the pandemic has brought. He said his department is facing around a 23% vacancy rate and have about double the amount of open positions that they normally have.

"Most of our drivers have been working six days a week. We have drivers sometimes that in a day will work a double shift for us to help us out. We have people that don't normally drive that have their CDLs that also drive. So sometimes our dispatcher supervisors, even a couple managers are out there driving buses instead of doing their other jobs," said Hume.

The remaining staff are not the only ones feeling the impact. Lack of staff forces the city to shorten services, leaving those who rely on public transportation to adjust.



It's not just his department feeling the impacts. Public health departments and law enforcement agencies feel the strain across multiple municipalities.

"This is really tough and challenging work, and we have a staff that is extremely resilient and dedicated to helping their community. But we also have seen and experienced burnout and just exhaustion," said Dr. Jennifer Green, the Cumberland County health director.

With around 46 open positions, Green's department is in a similar position as it was last year with around a 17% vacancy rate.

Similarly, Durham County had 39 vacancies for its public health department at the end of 2021 and 2020.

Wake County saw a 35% increase in vacancies in its public health department and now has more than 200 positions open.

"I'm reviewing those exit interviews. What can we do differently? How can we keep our staff here? How can we keep our staff happy and enthusiastic about the work that they're doing? And so those are things that we're thinking about moving into 2022 as well," said Green.

Green said her department relied on community members and volunteers to help close some gaps. Federal funding also allowed the county to hire temporary staff, but Green is hoping in the future the county can find permanent funding to keep the department fully staffed.

"We want to take this opportunity in public history this year to say public health is here. We're important, we're a critical service or an essential service, and we need to be and want to be funded in that manner so we can protect the health of our community and keep our community safe whether we're in a pandemic or not," said Green.

The pandemic and social justice movements have also added a strain on law enforcement agencies.



Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker said he believes these events have had an effect on staffing.

"It's taken a toll. The trust and the admiration for this profession have changed, and we may be diminished a little bit as a result of all those things," said Baker.

Baker said while departments regularly see staff transition between agencies, these shortages are different.

"People are leaving now. They've lost interest in being in this field. Those who are leaving for more money or other places. There are some who just, you know, they don't get their way and they resign," Baker said.

According to Wake County data, Baker's department faced 167 open positions this fiscal year, a 21% increase from the year before.

He said his department has been 'aggressively hiring' and just hired about 20 more people in the last few months.

"We're growing, we're getting there. It's tortoise slow," said Baker.

Many other large local agencies report more than 100 openings.

The Durham County Sheriff's Office's open positions more than doubled in this past year, according to data provided by the county.

The city of Raleigh did not provide vacancies numbers for the past year but currently has around 18% of its police positions open.

Baker said despite the shortages, he doesn't believe service to the community has diminished.

"My understanding and knowledge of this office have allowed me to be able to say, 'Well, hey, we can still get the job done and get those calls answered, our response time, all those things, but we don't need that many people per platoon, We've got other areas that have suffered and need support, we need to shift some of that staffing over there to help balance things out overall for this office.' And that's what we've done," said Baker.

All departments are getting creative in ways to attract and retain employees.



Hume said his department has offered financial incentives for staffing signing on and for staff who stick around.

The City of Fayetteville also partnering with a local community college to start a driver training program. Hume said they received around 32 applications from its first recruitment for the program.

Green said she is optimistic that these vacancies will shrink in the future.
"That was really a priority of our board of health this year was to figure out how to keep up staff morale, retain our staff, recruit new staff to be a part of public health," said Green. "We've sort of gotten a little bit creative, but certainly like everybody else, we hope that some of these staffing challenges will go away in 2022. But we know that it's going to take some hard work on our side."
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