Originally created 11/23/04

Panel targets turnover problem



ATLANTA - When Lonice Barrett began working for the state of Georgia more than 34 years ago, he knew it was going to be his career. Now, he's not so sure that some of those currently getting jobs with the state are intent on staying around as long.

"In my opinion, we are seeing a situation evolve where people don't come in state government, our public service work, and say, 'This is what I want to make a life work,'" he said.

But as the man heading up the attempt to implement the recommendations of the Commission for a New Georgia, appointed several months ago by Gov. Sonny Perdue to help revamp state government, Mr. Barrett is now part of an effort to develop more state leaders.

A report prepared by one of the commission's task forces recommends spending more than $2 million on state training, a third of which would be set aside for leadership development and taking other steps to stop the loss of valuable leadership in the Peach State's ranks.

It's not just a question of the government being unable to fill all of its chairs, Mr. Barrett said.

"The better we equip, the better we train, the better we motivate the folks who are delivering the services, the better the product is going to be when it gets to folks who are paying the tab," he said.

But the state is having trouble holding on to some of its employees. Turnover in state government is around 15 percent, according to a presentation by the leadership task force earlier this year, and more than a fifth of the managers in state government could retire within the next five years.

The leadership panel cited a lack of training, competition from private-sector jobs, and lower pay and benefits for state employees. Another problem facing the state is the looming departure of many managers who entered public service at about the same time Mr. Barrett did.

But state government is hardly alone when it comes to some of those problems. Tight budgets and flocks of people leaving the work force - largely baby boomers who are beginning to reach retirement age - are a problem across the board, said Martha Reabold, the vice president of marketing for Habersham Bank and a member of the task force.

"There are challenges," she said. "They face the same challenges that the private sector faces in preparing for the future."

Part of the problem, Mr. Barrett said, is a new generation of state workers who take their jobs to get training before leaving government to take positions elsewhere.

He quickly added that there are many dedicated state employees.

"We're losing a lot of our good folks. We're losing a lot of our even marginal folks" who get training and then move on, Mr. Barrett said.

Those involved in the report say the state needs to focus its energies on training new workers and enticing them to stay after that training is received. The task force pointed to concentrated efforts in leadership development in states including Florida, Tennessee and Maine.

"You can't really help the fact that people are going to retire," Ms. Reabold said.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.