Rochelle News Leader | The City of Rochelle is addressing staff shortages for its own posts

ROCHELLE — City manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said May 18 that the city of Rochelle wasn’t immune to the statewide labor shortage as it hired jobs of its own lately.

Since Fiegenschuh has been working in the city administration, there have always been many applicants for vacancies due to good pay, health insurance, pensions and, in some cases, union protection.

“I’ve noticed in recent years that we still have a decent number of applications, but not as many as we used to,” said Fiegenschuh. “In my career, the jobs that always get the most applicants are typically executive jobs. In fact, we’ve seen a pretty sharp drop in applications for these people.”

Since the city’s salary structure differs from the private sector, which can pay more, it is now competing more fiercely for good talent. The city manager said he firmly believes in hiring good talent and paying more for it.

Fiegenschuh said as a resident, he wishes his employees were talented and engaged in the city, bringing new ideas to the community to make it better.

“I think we should choose the best and most talented people we can find,” said Fiegenschuh. “And it’s hard to find them because we’re competing with so many other people. They’re seeing significant wage increases in the private sector to try to attract more talent. It definitely hit us. I would rather not hire than hire the wrong person. We want to make sure we hire by character and ability and hire the most talented person we can to improve the organization.

In addition to hiring for its administrative positions, the staffing shortage was noticed by the city when it saw a smaller than usual pool of applications this year when it hired two people for its streets department. It was lucky to find two “very qualified candidates”, said Fiegenschuh.

Finding employees for Rochelle Municipal Utilities’ finance and billing departments has also become more difficult, the city manager said.

“I would say utility billing isn’t just about getting paid, it’s about angry customers at times,” Fiegenschuh said. “It’s probably not the most pleasant working environment. It’s getting harder and harder to find people, absolutely.”

So far, the city’s staff shortage hasn’t caused any problems with staffing, as it has what Fiegenschuh said is an “amazing” workforce. As jobs open up, the city has been exploring ways to consolidate and combine work tasks. For example, employees in the utility billing department are now cross-trained for various tasks, including finance department responsibilities.

Before the labor shortage issue arose, Fiegenschuh said the city had begun rethinking its strategy for reaching out to different communities so it could choose from a more diverse pool of applicants. It is promoted in different places and more aggressive on different social media platforms.

Those who hire in various industries have found that pay is just one of many factors in hiring and staying in positions. Fiegenschuh said he also took that philosophy into account.

“I want people to come to the city of Rochelle knowing that they are a welcome member of the team and that we care about them and their families and that their contribution is valued and heard,” said Fiegenschuh. “It is a unique time that we are in. I really want to focus on those things because if you want someone to stay here long term you can pay them whatever you want but if they don’t feel valued and since their contribution is taken into account I don’t think so most of them will be permanent.”

Fiegenschuh said his biggest fear in staffing is losing employees, particularly those with a lot of institutional knowledge who are talented and care about the organization. It’s “really hard” to replace people like that, he said.

“There are a number of retirements that we’re going through and we’re filling those positions,” Fiegenschuh said. “People expect cops to be on the streets, or firefighters, or road workers. Name any department, people expect the service. We’re starting to lose people who have been here a long time and we need to make sure we’re replacing them with the right people.”

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