City urged to invest in more staff, improved technology: Report

City urged to invest in more staff, improved technology: Report

Editor’s Note: This is the third part of a three-part series about the recent core services review conducted for Orillia. Part 3 focuses on the review’s recommendations to beef up staffing and technology.

Orillia’s municipal workforce has not grown to keep up with the increasing demands and workload, concludes a consultant hired to review the city’s organization and service levels.

In addition, a spate of imminent retirements, coupled with challenges attracting and retaining talent, could handcuff the city in coming years.

On top of that, the city needs to invest more in technology “to ensure it can continue to deliver services in an efficient and effective manner.”

Those are among the key findings in an 85-page core service review of the city crafted by consultant MNP LLP.

Jason Burgess, managing partner for MNP, notes the city’s municipal workforce grew by less than 3 per cent between 2015 and 2018.

Taking into consideration some one-time, short-term hires, such as for the Ontario Winter Games, the number of staff actually decreased slightly.

“You actually went down in staffing,” stressed Burgess. “There is not a lot of fat on the bone in the organization, which is a good thing for council.”

But it’s not necessarily a good thing for the organization, he said.

“Very few taxpayers say ‘Please invest more in the bureaucracy,’” conceded Burgess. “It doesn’t poll well, quite frankly. But, in reality, you have to do it. You have to invest in technology and in people. At the end of day, you’re a service delivery agency.”

In fact, throughout the budget process in December, Mayor Steve Clarke said he felt the city was nearing a tipping point when it came to staffing levels.

He said many staffers are beyond capacity and said the number of large, ongoing projects underway are proving to be a challenge for employees already will full plates.

Despite that, during budget deliberations, there were several times that council chose not to add more staff.

Even so, the total salaries and benefits paid to staff in 2019 was about $28 million, which equates to 47 per cent of the city’s overall budget.

It’s not just the number of staff that is an issue, noted Burgess.

According to the report presented to council at its final meeting of 2019, 92 of Orillia’s 248 employees (or 37% of the employees) were 50 years old or older. 

This problem is even more acute at the city’s senior leadership level, as all but one of the team members could retire under normal circumstances within the next five years. 

Burgess said the number of potential retirements over the next 10 years can create significant challenges for the city. The challenges include: 

  • Transitioning talent with appropriate knowledge transfer so the city does not suffer from ‘Corporate Alzheimer’s;
  • Transitioning talent so critical projects continue to move without delay or cost increases; and
  • Being able to recruit appropriate talents for the openings. 

“The issue of staff retirement and staff turnover was a common theme that suggests the need for a more robust workforce strategy,” notes the report.

But it won’t be easy. The city, noted the report, is having trouble attracting talent.

“Based on our stakeholder engagement sessions, it is apparent that the main issues negatively impacting the city’s ability to attract and retain talent are attributed to the lack of competitive salaries, increased workloads without increased compensation, and the highly competitive employment market that exists in the private sector and other municipalities,” the report concluded.

Burgess used a sports analogy, saying Orillia is considered a “farm team” for other municipalities to hire trained and experienced staff members. 

“The City of Orillia has some unique demands and some succession planning challenges,” said Burgess. “(You) could have a significant number of senior managers retiring in due course.”

He said there is “no silver bullet” to address the issue, but stressed “it’s important to start down the path as quickly as you can.”

The city has just completed a competitiveness review (related to compensation) to help address that issue and has been tackling succession planning as well.

The municipality has also made a concerted effort over the past two years to invest money in upgrading and improving its information technology including hiring a manager of information technology.

Burgess said it may not be enough. An overall, corporate strategy needs to be developed and funded, Burgess said.

“Don’t shortchange your investment in technology,” he urged. “In fact, you should potentially consider increasing it.”

Burgess suggested an “increased investment in technology can increase internal efficiencies and/or improve customer service. Some examples include fulsome booking and paying for recreational services and moving away from manual time and attendance tracking.” 

The report noted municipalities will be required to increase their investment in several areas including: 

  • In technology platforms to increase its resident service capabilities (allowing residents to interact with the City online, increased self-service capability, or increased speed and accuracy of service); 
  • Increased staff capacity, using smarter technology for predictive services and to increase efficiencies; and, 
  • In security, data protection, and data analytics. 

Burgess also said the review showed the city has “limited procurement and legal depth” among current staff, which can create a risk for the city.

“From an internal capacity, making investments to reduce risk level and increase efficiency should be a priority for council,” said Burgess.

To read the core services review click here.


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