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Do performance and personal ties matter for the promotions of civil servants

To residents, municipal workers embody city government; and to a large degree, their performance determines the quality and perception of city services. The city of Philadelphia employs over 30,000 full-time, part-time, and seasonal employees in more than 700 different types of jobs at roughly 200 sites throughout the city. The other 19 percent are exempt from these rules. Every year, about 73,000 people apply for jobs with the city, and 1,500 get hired.

And the other was a perception on the part of city officials that current recruiting and hiring practices are inefficient, making it difficult to attract qualified applicants, particularly younger people to replenish the aging workforce as well as highly skilled workers who might be enticed by higher compensation or more flexible work environments in the private sector.

City officials also asked Pew to compare with other large U. This resulting report sets out to describe the hiring processes in Philadelphia city government, the challenges connected with them, and how other cities are handling similar concerns. While there was wide variation in hiring practices among the cities surveyed, all cited attracting a talented and diverse workforce among their top human resources priorities. Some cities have adjusted or revised civil service regulations to try to achieve those goals.

But in interviews with over 40 officials who deal with the process on a daily basis, hiring and promotion practices were almost universally described as cumbersome, inflexible, and slow. From 2013 to 2015, the median time between an individual submitting an application and getting selected for a position was 360 days—and applicants can sit on a list waiting to be hired for up to two years. As a result, some of the most desirable candidates have no longer been available by the time a job offer could be made.

Hiring through the civil service in Philadelphia has changed little since the system was put in place in 1952. It is based on do performance and personal ties matter for the promotions of civil servants stated standards and rules, designed to make hiring managers accountable to applicants and taxpayers as well as to elected officials.

One example is the so-called Rule of Two, which limits a hiring manager in Philadelphia to considering only the two candidates who place highest on an eligibility list for a position, with each applicant given a precise numerical rating based on exam scores and other factors.

In evaluating job candidates, Philadelphia tends to rely more heavily than other cities do on exam scores rather than resumes. In addition, Philadelphia gives applicants more ways to add bonus points to their exam scores that may or may not be related to the work—through language fluency, advanced degrees, military service, or having a parent or grandparent who was killed in the line of duty as a police officer or firefighter.

And unlike most cities studied, Philadelphia does not have a centralized recruiting office. As a result, recruitment efforts are limited, with departments responsible for generating candidates for open positions—a task they are not always well-prepared or incentivized to perform.

This was true, to a greater or lesser degree, of nearly all cities studied.

Hiring and Employment in Philadelphia City Government

And in Philadelphia, the situation does not appear to be changing; in the past several years, new hires have more closely matched the makeup of the existing municipal workforce than the makeup of the city as a whole.

Among city workers, men are paid more than women, and whites make more than members of other racial and ethnic groups. Much of this is a result of some groups being more heavily concentrated in certain job categories than others. In data for 2015, black employees accounted for 81 percent of all service and maintenance workers, the job category with the lowest median salary. On the other hand, black employees represented only 32 percent of officials and administrators, where the median salary was the highest.

Like the other cities examined, Philadelphia had more men than women on the payroll, largely because the police and fire departments, which are predominantly male, make up a large percentage of municipal workforces. With hiring processes characterized by many officials as rigid and slow, Philadelphia and other cities must now determine how to adapt their employment practices to become more nimble and competitive in a fast-moving job market. Municipalities must balance the conflicting priorities of finding and retaining the talent they will need for tomorrow while maintaining a commitment to fair and equitable hiring, the backbone of the civil service system.

The city employs approximately 30,000 full-time, part-time, and seasonal workers in positions that provide a variety of services and require a range of skills and competencies. About 81 percent of these positions are governed by civil service, and most are considered stable and secure middle-class jobs; the other 19 percent are exempt from civil service.

As of June 2017, 75 percent of all city employees were on track to be eligible for retirement in the next 15 years.

Seventeen percent were already eligible, and 771 employees retired in 2016. They are job class specifications, exams, and eligibility lists. For definitions of these and other terms used in this report, see the glossary in Appendix A. All of the comparison cities examined for this study use these elements to ensure fairness within their civil service systems, especially in the police and fire departments.

  • This can cause problems when the actual job requirements are more demanding, as is sometimes the case at Philadelphia International Airport;
  • Hiring managers in San Francisco, one of the cities with a Rule of Three, said that the rule, in some cases, has limited their ability to hire qualified workers by not always giving managers access to the best candidates;
  • The police and fire departments admit candidates from the eligibility list without interviews because recruits must complete training at the academies to be eligible for full employment;
  • City Workforce Programs City government has implemented a number of procedures and policies aimed at providing particular groups of Philadelphians—people who might not otherwise be able to obtain civil service jobs—opportunities to start public service careers;
  • City officials say the job specifications themselves can be barriers to attracting top candidates.

Job class specifications In civil service, job descriptions are called job class specifications. They describe the duties and tasks associated with each civil service position and the necessary experience and qualifications. Specifications are created by the staff of the department or departments employing people in that job class and by the Office of Human Resources; they must be approved by the Civil Service Commission and the administrative board.

In some cases, the classifications are broad and apply to a type of job available in many city departments; in others, the classifications apply to a single job in a single department.

History of Civil Service in Philadelphia Philadelphia adopted a civil service system in its 1919 city charter. The system was meant to establish merit-based hiring while limiting the role of politics in personnel decisions. However, numerous loopholes allowed for patronage and corruption.

Temple University Press, 2011. Oral or written exams are used to evaluate candidates for most positions. Training and experience evaluations are used for about a quarter of all jobs, with performance exams administered in a small number of cases. A mix of exam types is used for the rest. For anyone who takes a civil service exam and passes it, bonus points are available for qualifying conditions such as veteran status or language fluency.

Philadelphia offers more ways than most other cities to add points.

  • And from the perspective of a city department, the time to hire a candidate starts before the job is posted;
  • Thirty-four percent said the private sector offered higher salaries; 28 percent said the public sector did;
  • Phoenix similarly maintains lists that are active for six to 12 months.

The results of the exams, combined with the bonus points, create the order in which people are eligible to be hired for most city positions. Every city has rules or laws in place offering points or preferences to veterans who take and pass civil service exams. Some cities offer bonus points for items on which other cities impose requirements.

For instance, San Antonio gives applicants a point for living in the city. The extent of the point system in Philadelphia can make it difficult for applicants with no bonus points to get ranked high enough on the eligibility list to be considered for employment, no matter how well they do on the test. The first 239 applicants on the 2013 firefighter eligibility list had scores over 100, meaning they performed well on the test and had additional points added.

At the same time, the workforce development strategy announced by Mayor Kenney in February 2018 calls for reducing barriers to municipal employment and giving opportunities to adults lacking workforce skills and credentials.

The recent history of the police department highlights how the city strives to balance these two goals. For individuals in any department who wish to continue their education while employed, the city partners with select area colleges and universities to offer a 25 percent tuition discount to municipal employees.

Eligibility lists Job vacancies are filled using eligibility lists. Each job class specification has its own list, and applicants are ranked in order of their scores, including bonus points. If applicants remain tied, in the case of open competitive positions, candidates who have lived in Philadelphia for at least one year are given preference. If that does not resolve the issue, a computerized random drawing is conducted. Depending on the job classification, some eligibility lists are citywide and some are department-specific.

For example, an individual on a citywide eligibility list for an industrial electrician 1 position is eligible for any vacant position in that classification, regardless of department. This can cause problems when the actual job requirements are more demanding, as is sometimes the case at Philadelphia International Airport.

Although departments can request department-specific job classifications, the Office of Human Resources does not grant all such requests. Other cities reviewed followed a similar practice. Eligibility lists remain in place for up to two years, and departments seeking to fill positions must use them. In some cases, this means calling in applicants who applied for employment well over a year earlier.

The process of reaching out to these applicants can result in additional delays if they have already found other employment, are hard to reach, or are slow to respond. Eligibility lists are not unique to Philadelphia, but the two-year life span is longer than in some other cities.

In Denver, lists expire after one year. Phoenix similarly maintains lists that are active for six to 12 months. In Chicago, eligibility lists typically remain active for two to three years.

Fifty-five percent rated them as fair or poor, and 41 percent as excellent or good. The rest said they did not know or would not answer. City employees received higher ratings from residents who had lived in Philadelphia less than 10 years and from people 65 and older, and lower ratings from blacks and Hispanics. Civil service and non- civil service jobs are listed, with new job opportunities highlighted in red.

For civil service positions, the jobs are divided into open competitive, citywide promotional, and departmental promotional. Depending on the position, an applicant may be considered by any number of departments; exam announcements do not list a hiring department.

  • And from the perspective of a city department, the time to hire a candidate starts before the job is posted;
  • For individuals in any department who wish to continue their education while employed, the city partners with select area colleges and universities to offer a 25 percent tuition discount to municipal employees;
  • And in Philadelphia, the situation does not appear to be changing; in the past several years, new hires have more closely matched the makeup of the existing municipal workforce than the makeup of the city as a whole.

For example, an applicant for an administrative assistant position could wind up working in the Revenue Department or the Department of Human Services. A new applicant may seek only the non-civil service and the open competitive civil service positions; the open competitive slots represented 37 percent of civil service vacancies between 2010 and 2017. According to the Chief Administrative Office, no record of the number of exempt vacancies was available before 2016. To get the process started, the applicant creates a profile on the website, answering questions related to education, work history, trade licenses, certifications, skills, and any relationship to current city employees.

The profile also asks whether the applicant is entitled to any bonus points. After applying for the position, which is generally open for about two weeks, the applicant waits to hear from the city whether he or she is eligible to take the required exam, which is held on a specific date in a specific location.

If the applicant passes the exam, his or her score can be increased based on associated bonus points and is ranked on the eligibility list.

If and when contacted, the applicant is asked if he or she is still interested in the position. If the answer is no, the applicant is removed from consideration. If the answer is yes, the applicant is considered. If the applicant wants to work in the job classification but not in the particular agency or department that has the opening, he or she may remain on the list to see if jobs in the same classification become available in other departments.

Individuals on an eligibility list can remove their names from consideration by a department up to three times. After that, the candidate is removed from the list.

Candidates may remove their names from an eligibility list for other reasons as well, such as the job location. If interviewed and selected for the position, the applicant must go through a medical assessment, an indebtedness check, and, in some cases, a psychological evaluation and a federal background check. Then, a start date is selected, followed by a six-month probationary period.

Challenges with the current system In interviews for this report, city officials frequently cited recruitment policies, regulations designed to ensure merit-based hiring, and timing as obstacles to securing a qualified workforce. Since then, the city has done little to market the overall attractiveness of employment within city government. The city does host occasional job fairs in which multiple departments participate.

These events, though, have their limits.