The Big Quit-Where We Stand

Mayor Julie Akins

By Julie Akins
Mayor About Town

It’s discouraging.

When it comes to finding and keeping employees, the “Big Quit” affects everyone.  The hardest hit industries are hospitality and retail. In a tourist town like ours, this has an oversized impact. Add to that: the largest demographic of people leaving jobs are those between 18 and 29 with 37% quit rates, and you see that Ashland is losing its core labor force for the tourist related industry.

Currently, about 4 million people resign from their jobs every month. This is the highest level of  quitting since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track month to month in 2020 and adds up to more than 47 million so far.

No organizations are safe from the risk of employee’s resigning, says Liz Hall, “Chief People Officer” at Splash, a marketing company. “I have yet to talk to someone where this isn’t affecting them,” she explains. “The ‘turnover tsunami,’ ‘yolo economy,’ ‘great resignation,’ and so on, is across all levels and within all roles. It is not targeted to a specific department.” 

And while tourism is the most affected–the “Great Resignation,” as it’s been called, affects every field including staffing for cities.

In the City of Ashland, full staffing is roughly 245 full time people. The count as of this day is 42 vacancies, according to City Manager Joe Lessard. If we intended to fill every position, that amounts to a 17% vacancy rate.

But keep in mind, the city never fills every position, some languish for years and that money goes into an ending fund balance along with other operating money that wasn’t spent.

Not all positions are at the same level of urgency.But according to Lessard, the goal is to hire open positions.

“We should be around 8% [vacancy]. People are doing double and triple duties. People are getting tired and frustrated,” according to Lessard.

He doesn’t attribute vacancies to any particular force. But Lessard does state unfilled positions have been a reality for the last “two to three bienniums.”

That said, the City of Ashland is a good enough place to work that 83% of its jobs are filled, that’s certainly a decent operating number. As a hiring professional, I would have been generally okay with that number. Vacancies are a part of any organization, and as I say, not all openings are created equal. Some positions are on the books as a placeholder, some are essential.

I was at my friend Dan’s house recently and found myself sitting next to a young man in his thirties, whom I’d never met before. We struck up a conversation and we talked about his job which he loved. He spoke of good pay, benefits and a great team of people.

When I asked him where he worked, he said the City of Ashland.

He had no idea he was talking to the mayor, but the conversation confirmed my observations, that the City of Ashland pays enough to buy a home, has good health benefits,retirement, and that plenty of employees like their job.

There’s no crisis there. In fact, I want us as a community to figure out how we can make those working conditions a widespread reality, available for people who aren’t just in the public sector.

So, here’s the truth: when city council talks about our city’s budget, it’s not about a race to the bottom, being stingy or cutting the city’s resources to the bone, nor is it about poorly compensating rank and file staff. That’s not the way to build any organization.

It’s a question of how we use the city’s resources with an annual budget of roughly 150 million dollars to best serve the city.It’s not staff versus council or the people–it’s one group serving the other. Staff serving the residents. That’s what the mayor and council are here to ensure.

And, if people felt supported, if they saw their city getting things done like loosening the knot in a tangible way to make their lives better, no one would be talking about a staff person’s 4% raise.

It’s about value. Do you feel you’re getting your money’s worth?

To me, having a city which promotes, incentivizes and works to assist living wage employers is a good value. More good paying jobs will keep money in our town. That helps every other business here. I also think a city which gives true effort to reasonably priced housing is worth my investment.

Then the other things like concerts in the park, public amenities like a working community center and an open city hall, roads that are repaired and parks that function should be something I never have to think about. If I have to think about infrastructure as a resident–we have a problem.

I’m asking for your support to get these things done. There is money to pave the streets, fix the parks, pay the people and have a few parades. There is a way to open the Community Center and to get the housing issue behind us. There are ways to support businesses and the people they employ.

Division is what keeps us from getting these things done. Let’s move past the rhetoric and into the reality of a city that works for the people and by the people.

Let’s start today.