RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As North Carolina state agencies struggle to hire and retain workers, an organization representing those employees says the high turnover rate is costing the state millions of dollars.
About 37 percent of state employees leave within a year of being hired, according to data from the Office of State Human Resources. A document the agency produced shows in some agencies that the issue is even more pronounced.
The turnover rate among first-year employees is nearly 50 percent in health and human resources, adult corrections and human resources.
The agency also noted a report by Deloitte that found losing an employee can cost anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars up to twice their annual salary due to expenses from recruiting and training as well as other factors.
“It affects the public in terms of safety. It affects them in terms of customer service. But now we know it costs the taxpayer an extraordinary amount of money. So, just pay them more money and keep them,” said Ardis Watkins, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina. “So, a half a billion dollars taxpayer dollars are just going out the door with nothing to show for them.”
Across state government, the vacancy rate has grown to 23 percent, about double what it was before the pandemic. State officials note that while North Carolina is growing in population and adding to demand for state services, the state workforce is shrinking.
The North Carolina Troopers Association recently released an ad, saying the vacancy rate among troopers is an issue of public safety. The group notes North Carolina ranks 48th in the country for starting trooper pay, and there are 266 trooper vacancies across the state.
The issue has been at the center of budget negotiations among state leaders.
Republicans in the state House of Representatives passed their budget proposal last month, which called for 7.5 percent raises for state workers on average over the next two years. Harder-to-fill positions would receive more. For example, troopers would be eligible for 11 percent raises.
The North Carolina Senate will unveil its budget plan next week. Republican leaders in that chamber say they will propose raises as well, though it’s unclear what those will be. Additionally, the Senate will push for deeper cuts to the state’s personal income tax rate.
“There are a number of reasons that exist for vacancies in various departments,” said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham). “Some of it probably has to do with the salaries. And, we will make an effort to try to address some of those challenges that are out there.”
The state has taken some steps, including giving agencies more flexibility on the salaries they can offer, implementing retention and expanded sign-on bonuses and offering more telework and hybrid options.
In an email, Jill Lucas, a spokesperson for the Office of State Human Resources, said, “The ongoing crisis in recruiting and retaining state employees demonstrates the urgency of providing meaningful pay raises to address the persistent gap in providing competitive salaries. Governor Cooper has proposed necessary additional funding for salaries to support a highly skilled workforce capable of delivering the programs and services that people rely on every day. We know state agencies are working hard to reduce the vacancy rate, but funding limitations are causing state agencies to have difficulty competing against the private sector.