• Alex Nitkin
    SEP 29, 2021

    With ‘big job ahead,’ human resources department gears up for hiring spree

    Ald. Harry Osterman (48) asked Department of Human Resources Comm. Christopher Owen on Friday what the department is doing to speed up hiring to fill “critical” vacancies.

    Under historic pressure to staff up Chicago’s workforce, the city’s human resources department is set to grow its own staff and put in place a series of procedural fixes in an attempt to speed up hiring, officials said during a budget hearing on Tuesday.

    The Department of Human Resources is set to see its budget grow from about $6.8 million to $7.8 million under the 2022 spending plan rolled out by Mayor Lori Lightfoot last week. Budget officials propose to grow the department’s full-time equivalent employee positions from 75 to 83, including a new “policy analyst,” an “[equal employment opportunity] investigator” and two “senior testing and assessment specialist” positions.

    “The staff that we’re adding is targeted in areas of the hire process where we typically see bottlenecks,” human resources department Comm. Christopher Owen told aldermen on Tuesday. “We’ll have more resources to reduce those bottlenecks and keep the process moving faster.

    Owen said the city is “averaging between 90 and 120 days” to fill each open position after it’s been approved to advertise, “which is still too long.” But he added that the department “has been making changes” to try and quicken the process, including by letting applicants digitally sign employment documents.

    “One of our process steps in onboarding candidates is that they have to make appointments to come in and fill out paperwork,” Owen said. “With DocuSign, we’ll be able to send them a link to fill it out online.” 

    He added that the department has tweaked the city “hiring plans” required under Shakman Decree rules so that hiring officials no longer have to give as much lag time to the Office of the Inspector General for certain moves.

    “It also allows us to cut out portions of the hire process if we determine it’s not necessary,” Owen said. “For example, if it’s a position we’ve posted a number of times and there’s no changes…there’s steps in the process we’ll be able to skip now that will help greatly reduce the amount of time to get the position posted and get the process moving along.

    City budget officials skimmed more than 1,000 vacant positions from the city’s payroll last year, including more than 600 in the Chicago Police Department, as part of their belt-tightening 2021 “pandemic budget.” But the mayor’s administration is now looking to reverse that trend so that the city can stand up hundreds of millions of dollars in new programming envisioned by Lightfoot’s Chicago Recovery Plan.

    The human resources department plans to run one new Chicago Police Department entrance exam each in October, November and December, Owen said Tuesday. Nearly 600 people have already applied for this round of recruitment, he said, adding that about half of applicants historically end up sitting for the police entrance exam.

    With more than 1,000 vacant positions, the police department is looking to accelerate new academy classes to make up for time lost at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lightfoot told The Daily Line last week that the department is planning to stand up a “full-time recruitment team” to scour the country for candidates.

    Related: Lightfoot rolls out kitchen sink strategy to quell gun violence as critics pounce

    “You have a big job ahead of you for 2022,” Committee on Budget and Government Operations chair Ald. Pat Dowell (3) told Owen at the end of Tuesday’s hearing. “With all the resources that we've received and the program monies that we have, we definitely need to have the staff to do that.” 

    Ald. Harry Osterman (48) said it was “alarming” to learn during Monday’s hearings that the Department of Family and Support Services has 91 vacant staff positions as the department works to fight homelessness. 

    Related: Aldermen push for continuation of expanded resources for Chicago’s homeless residents

    “What are we doing to address filling some of the current vacancies in critical departments that are helping support COVID?” Osterman asked.

    Owen said his department sets up “regular, usually weekly meetings” with departments with a “high number of vacancies” to “go over their priorities” for filling critical posts.

    “Filling 91 vacancies is a lift,” he said. “We want to prioritize and strategize how we’re doing the hiring so that we’re anticipating any backfills and filling multiple positions at the same time.” 

    He added that vacant positions can’t all be filled at once — each department is responsible for filing a “hire plan” with the city’s Office of Budget and Management that “lines out when they’re supposed to fill those positions over the course of the year.”

    Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11) bristled at that process, asking why city officials are not “trying to fill all of these [vacancies] all the time.”

    “When this body approves a budget, we expect that budget to be the budget,” Thompson said. “So if we’ve allocated monies and resources to pay for those positions, then we should [fill them].”

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