Colorado’s Boom Times Means Gov’t Jobs Have To Up Their Recruitment Game

Listen Now
3min 39sec
<p>Megan Verlee/CPR News</p>
<p>The Regional Transportation District is looking for bus drivers, train operators and mechanics — and they&#039;re not above advertising that fact to their captive commuter audience on the light rail.</p>
Photo: RTD Help Wanted Sign | Light Rail Interior - MVerlee
The Regional Transportation District is looking for bus drivers, train operators and mechanics — and they're not above advertising that fact to their captive commuter audience on the light rail.

Local governments say they are increasingly turning to guerilla marketing and financial incentives — including signing bonuses — to try and lure employees in Colorado’s exceedingly tight job market.

There are hundreds of government job openings across the state. Places like Denver, Aurora, Douglas County, even Sterling, need firefighters, plumbers, chemists, mechanics and police officers. The Regional Transportation District needs 120 train operators and mechanics and bus drivers. The Colorado Department of Transportation needs more than 100 snowplow drivers.

Officials are mulling over throwing cash at people in similar ways the private sector does. Aurora Police is studying whether to offer signing bonuses. The Denver Fire Department pays people on their birthdays.

“You have to be innovative as a recruiter. You can’t just stand on a street corner,” said Greg Pixley, a captain and recruiter at Denver Fire. “We want to be able to share the experiences that an individual will have as a firefighter … It’s nice to have little kids wave at you.”

Tight job markets often mean people steer clear of local government jobs because they don’t think they pay as well, but University of Denver economist Jack Strauss said that is a misconception.

Government employees earn $48 an hour, including benefits whereas the average private sector job pays $33 an hour, including benefits, Strauss said.

“When the economy is doing poorly, people then look for government work because they have no choice … government work is more stable,” Strauss said.

He points out architects, crime investigators, microbiologists, engineers all make more in the government sector than the private sector.

At a recent Denver public safety job fair, recruiters from the police and fire departments and sheriff’s office were allowing people to play with equipment, try on uniforms and pet German Shepherds.

The point was to make the jobs look fun — even when police recruiter admits that there are demanding days.

“It’s getting harder and harder to find good police officers … it’s hard to go from a desk job as opposed to working night shifts, working holidays, working weekends, you know, getting shot at,” said Denver Police recruiter Anthony Norman. “I always sell it as it’s a calling, you’re making the city a better place.”

Jefferson County is selling the stability — and benefits. They need plumbers, mechanics, police officers, painters, and IT staff. They’re posting openings on Craigslist and even took fliers to paint shops hoping to find someone.

“It’s typically 8-5. It is not going to include weekends,” said Jenny Fulton, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. “Of course, we have holidays, vacations, sick time. Our benefits package is very robust. For people who are looking for security down the road, for the retirement years, working for a government agency is a good option for them.”

It was a selling point for Prince, a sales consultant at Hewlett-Packard who didn’t want to give his last name so his employer wouldn’t know he was looking for work. Prince wants better benefits and more job stability and was eyeing jobs at the Denver Sheriff’s office.

“I’m looking to get something more career oriented,” he said. “Primarily, there is a lot of good benefits, better than what I have.”

Related: How Many Federal Employees Are In Colorado?