Imagine if you found out that the reason that LeBron James is not going to play for the Sixers next season was not because he decided to go to Los Angeles, but because the franchise couldn’t get their act together and hire the superstar in a timely fashion. People would have been livid. Yet this scenario plays out every day in our local government.
A recent report by the Pew Philadelphia Research Initiative found that city’s hiring and employment process is “cumbersome, inflexible, and slow.” It found that the median time between application submission and hiring selection was 360 days. Some candidates waited two years to hear back. That means that often, by the time the selection process is over, the candidate that the city wanted is no longer available. In an effort to reduce nepotism and cronyism, the 1952 Philadelphia City Charter laid out the rules that govern the civil service system. About 81 percent of the 30,000 workers employed by Philadelphia are civil services jobs. Even though skills, jobs, candidates, and labor law changed dramatically since 1952, the civil service system did not.
A paralyzing bureaucracy that takes months to hire is not the only problem that the report finds in the city’s hiring practices. Another problematic feature of civil service are that the rules do not allow hiring managers to pick the candidate that best fits their need. The first example of this is the “Rule of Two” that limits hiring managers to pick between the two top candidates as decided by a rating that takes into account exams scores and other factors out of the control of the hiring manager. Which means if the manager doesn’t like either of the two candidates, their only other option is to restart the process.
The city commissioned the study from Pew, but its action doesn’t have to end there. Of the 15 largest cities in the U.S., only Philadelphia and two others do not have a central recruiting office. Phoenix, for example, has the equivalent of 20 full-time employees dedicated to recruitment efforts citywide.
Investing resources in recruitment would save the city all the costs of the current, inefficient system. Further, there could be a large return on investment from the new talent that a central recruiting effort would bring to the city.
There is good reason for urgency. Three out of four city employees will reach retirement age in the next 15 years. This means that over the next two decades Philadelphia is going to replace the majority of its municipal workforce, and it can’t take a year to hire each one of those replacements. It will be close to impossible to make this transition under these circumstances — and the amount of institutional knowledge that will be lost under these circumstances would be devastating.
The city did the right thing when it asked Pew to research the hiring process. Now the results are in, there is no excuse not to change or liberalize the rules of the civil service system and invest in attracting the talent required for the city to operate.