California Attacks Staff Shortage by Creating Database of Retirees Willing to Work

With baby boomers leaving state employment, Boomerang system lists retirees with valuable skills.

by / January 24, 2008

California's retired state government employees have a new way to re-enter the work force, one that could make it easier for government offices to fill part-time vacancies left by the baby boomer turnover sweeping through the public sector.


A new database, known as Boomerang, allows retirees to list their expertise and interests, while simultaneously letting California state agencies search for promising talent.


"With the baby boomers retiring in large numbers, we are going to have a big gap between who is leaving and who we can bring in," said Andrew Armani, state director of eServices. "So Boomerang will be a piece of what we are trying to do to remedy that problem."



Boomerang's Debut

The system went live for registrants on Sept. 5 2006, and within two weeks had seen nearly 120 retirees sign up. A limited number of departments got access to the database this fall as a trial run, Armani said, and full access for all departments is expected in January.


While those first 120 retirees came in strictly through word of mouth, program organizers have a number of efforts planned to promote Boomerang among the state's 400,000 to 500,000 retirees in the coming months. They are working with the state controller's office to publicize the program on pay stubs, in the hope of reaching some who may be planning to retire soon. A Boomerang newsletter will go out to present and future retirees, and planners also are coordinating with CalPERS, the state's public employee retirement system.


"CalPERS is where people go before they retire, to plan their retirement," Armani said. "They have classes there, and we have asked CalPERS to take time in those classes to refer to this database."


As for spreading the word among state departments, Armani is not overly concerned. "Even though we are still in phase one, I am already getting calls from departments asking when this is going to open up for them to come in."


The State and Consumer Services Agency will be the first to go live on the system, along with its 16 subsidiary agencies, including the Department of General Services, Department of Consumer Affairs, the State Personnel Board and the Franchise Tax Board.



Meeting a Need

At the Franchise Tax Board, CIO Cathy Cleek said the database is a necessary

step toward meeting California's HR needs.


"We need to find talented people to work in the state," she said, "and if we can get retired people who want to go back into the work force part-time, I think that is fantastic."


As government moves to fill those needs, HR experts say public-sector technology initiatives like Boomerang mirror what has been going on for some time in the private sector.


"You pick your profession: They all maintain job pages, job banks. So having one that is just focused on these government workers seems like a good idea," said Charles Ingersoll, senior client partner and head of the government practice of global recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International.


Recent studies suggest that such efforts are becoming increasingly common in the public sector.


The International Public Management Association for Human Resources studied such efforts in the public sector. In its most recent surveys, the organization found that 57 percent of responding organizations utilize some type of automated applicant tracking application, system or solution.


Twenty percent use a homegrown IT solution or system for applicant tracking.


For those organizations without an existing automated applicant-tracking application, 40 percent plan to implement one in the near future.


 As in the Boomerang program, the Internet plays a significant part in technology-based recruiting. Seventy-six percent of respondents said applicants could contact human resources, ask questions or request information via the Internet. Fifty-one percent take applications online.


Overall, 44 percent of responding organizations said they use some type of Web-based recruiting tool.



Simple Solution

As a piece of technology, Boomerang is deliberately simple, to the point of being stripped down. Virtually all registrant information can be filled in with a mouse click or a pull-down menu: last agency worked for, skills and experience.


 "We decided to have as few fields for questions as possible. You don't want to come in as a retiree and give this big old explanation of what you are doing. That's why we ask them just to go through this list and check the box for what you want to

do," Armani said.


No confidential information is collected: no Social Security number, no driver's license.


Registrants can also input their preferred work schedule -- those returning to government service can work up to nine months in the course of a year, with that time being broken up in any number of ways, to be decided between worker and supervisor.


For departments, the lean registration information makes it easy to quickly sort potential candidates. "Then when they find someone with certain skills, it will be up to them to go through the data collection and to refine their skills," Armani said.


Backing it all up is the workhorse of database technology: The Franchise Tax Board developed the SQL database that is the core of Boomerang's technology. The database runs on the Microsoft platform, written primarily in .NET.


While this may seem bare bones compared to applications running in the private sector, it still is a good first step, said Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research at Nucleus, an industry analyst firm that evaluates technology implementations from a return on investment perspective.


Based on past observations, she predicted that once Boomerang is fully operational, managers will begin looking for ways to enhance its functionality.


"We are going to see a lot more sophistication, a lot more development," she said. "I would be surprised if they continued with such a limited sort of site."


Meanwhile, with the system still in its earliest days, counties and cities already have been calling to ask whether they might borrow the Boomerang code. Armani says he isn't surprised, considering the financial logic that underlies the whole affair.


"The state doesn't have to pay benefits to these folks, because they already receive benefits," he said. "At the same time, these retirees can come in and supplement their own income, on their own schedule."


Contributing writer Adam Stone writes on business and technology from Annapolis, Md.

Adam Stone Contributing Writer

A seasoned journalist with 20+ years' experience, Adam Stone covers education, technology, government and the military, along with diverse other topics. His work has appeared in dozens of general and niche publications nationwide. 

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