Wanted: Application Developer

Balancing life and career is a challenge we all face. Finding a personally rewarding career in information technology that allows you to maximize your potential and receive recognition for your own talents can be even more challenging.

If you would like to be a member of a team devoted to technical innovation, excellence and enjoying time with their families, then the Application Development Division is for you.

This ad is not typical of your standard government agency help wanted ad. Nor is it typical to dangle pay increases for learned skills. But then again, neither is the fact that this agency has been known to tender an offer to a potential hire within two weeks of receiving a resume. And we'll get to the "quirky perk" later.

Not typical stuff, but necessary for a government agency that is striving for a good workforce development program - one that will compete with the private sector for IT professionals and retain quality staff. The Riverside County IT Department has done just that through some innovative initiatives.

The department, like government agencies everywhere, found itself under the gun to deliver more government services more efficiently, but was juggling IT workers like hot potatoes. It had nearly 120 IT job classifications, many of which were outdated, and a lot of which couldn't be filled with qualified personnel anyway because the county didn't offer competitive pay, according to Jim Berger, Riverside County senior human relations analyst.

"They'd look at the top range of pay and go, 'Okay, now let's negotiate,' and we'd say, 'We don't have any room to negotiate above the range, only within it,' and they would leave," Berger said. But that was only part of the problem. The pay structure left employees with no incentive for developing new skills. So the agency overhauled the whole process.

The IT Department developed a plan that would consolidate the IT classifications into 10 positions or "concepts," streamline the recruiting process to attract the best possible candidates and keep the hires smiling with perks, flexible schedules, continued skills training and extra pay for learning those skills. It took quite a bit of arm-twisting but the program finally took off in April 2000, two years after initial meetings.

Competency-Based Pay

After a 1998 study pointed to the need for changes, the department formed the Information Technology Managers Group, comprised of a Riverside County human resources study team and leaders of technology organizations throughout the county. The group came up with a competency-based pay program that scrapped the standard 5 percent cost-of-living increase and instead rewards continued education and training. It serves as both a motivational tool and a hook to get qualified people in the door.

The competency-based pay program consists of 25 "hot skills" within the 10 classifications, and attaches a pay increase to each skill. Employees are paid a base salary, but build on it by exhibiting proficiency in one or more of the skills that fall under their job classifications. The program is voluntary, but more than 90 percent of the county's IT employees have bought into it.

The new pay scale is attracting qualified personnel who previously wouldn't have considered going to work for a county agency. "That's a huge selling tool for us," said Melanie Hanisco, a recruiter who left the private sector in June 2000 to help Riverside County fill its many vacancies. "It puts them in charge of their own destiny and allows them the power to say, 'I want this money and I'm willing to do this to get there.'"

Hanisco brought with her a private-sector mentality that has changed the process of applying for and accepting work with the county dramatically. First, Hanisco began advertising in a non-traditional way. Instead of putting an ad in the Los Angeles Times, which was standard, she found out what

Jim McKay, Editor  |  Editor