We’re Not Producing Widgets: Why We Need Great People in Government Jobs



We all want to live in communities that are safe, stable and vibrant. This means we need to create towns with solid infrastructure, strong police protection, responsive fire and EMS services, great schools, good parks, and successful businesses. But the essential ingredient to produce great communities is so often overlooked. People make it happen!

Every community needs great people to provide the services the taxpayers expect. So much of this work falls to local government workers. Much attention is given to the federal and state government, but it’s the local governments that impact peoples’ lives every single day. And dedicated, well-trained and experienced local government workers make our communities stronger and safer.


Continuity is important to any organization and it is no different for towns across Missouri. Being able to recruit and retain the best workers is essential to create desirable communities.


A general manager of a public utilities provider once explained to me the importance of continuity. He said that you can ask any water supply employee where the pipes are and they would say they’re in the ground. But an experienced employee will be able to pinpoint exactly where the pipes are because of his experience and training. This idea can be applied to any job. Experience and training matter.

Governments are in the service business. And in order to provide great service, you need people that really care about making their community better. I heard Gerry Welch, Mayor of Webster Groves, once say, “A city can have the most expensive ambulances, snow plows and equipment possible. But that doesn’t make any difference if we don’t have good, skilled employees that really care about the services they provide.”




Bill Johnson, Director of Administration for the City of Fulton, also recognizes the importance of continuity. He told me, “We need to keep the employees that we have in order to maintain the level of service that the citizens have grown accustom to.”


Recruiting and retaining good people, however, does require an investment. In order to keep the best people, taxpayers have to be willing to invest in those people. Sometimes it’s hard to justify to citizens the need to add a certain employee benefit, increase a benefit, or simply why we need to keep the benefits we have.


Always remember, an investment in your people IS an investment in your community! We’re not producing widgets, we are providing a service, which requires great people. But attracting and retaining great people is becoming increasingly difficult. As the Baby Boomers are moving out of the workforce, the focus on attracting talent is becoming a more important issue. I have talked with many human resource personnel over the last few of years that say recruiting is becoming their top concern. There are several advantages of working in the public sector over the private sector and government employers must be able to effective communicate these advantages in order to be competitive in the job market.


Always remember, an investment in your people IS an investment in your community! We’re not producing widgets, we are providing a service, which requires great people. 


One key difference between the public and private sector is the availability of retirement plans provided by the employer. According to a recent article in Forbes, only 40% of workers in the United States are covered by a retirement plan through their employer. This is unheard of in the public sector where state and local government workers are not only covered by a retirement plan, but 75% are covered by defined benefit pension plans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Defined benefit pensions are almost non-existent in the private sector but these plans have many advantages over 401(k)-type individual account plans. Emphasizing retirement benefits is an area where governments can truly gain ground in recruiting and retaining good workers.


Local government workers truly are vital to creating great communities. We often don’t even notice the work they do until something goes wrong. When we have to call 911, for example, we expect a competent, well-trained dispatcher to answer the phone and calmly walk us through our emergency. Then we further expect a fast response and competent, well-trained first responders to show up and do their jobs to fix whatever problem we are currently experiencing. All of this doesn’t just happen. It takes dedication, pride, and empathy to provide great services. I am proud to work for local government servants because I see the impact they have and the caring they show toward their communities. Let us all be proud of the work we do every day to make our communities better!


Tagged Baby Boomers, pensions, Recruiting, Public service

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