City of Dubuque exploring new seasonal workforce recruitment strategies

With the last rays of summer now setting, City of Dubuque officials are considering new strategies to boost recruitment for their struggling seasonal workforce.

Throughout the summer, city officials struggled to reach adequate seasonal staffing levels for their pool facilities and summer recreation programs, prompting the city to reduce maximum participant numbers for programs and cut pool hours.

Dan Kroger, recreation division manager for the city, said the Leisure Services Department hovered between 50% and 60% of its ideal summer workforce throughout the summer, despite several efforts to boost recruitment.

“For the bulk of our staff, we saw a lack of applicants for positions,” Kroger said. “It forced us to think outside the box and adjust with how we were offering our services.”

Workforce shortages have pervaded the entire tri-state area, with numerous businesses struggling to reach full employment. The city, also hit by the shortage, had its seasonal employee numbers cut even more dramatically with the start of the school year, forcing Dubuque’s city pools to close about two weeks early.

Though summer now is largely behind them, Kroger said he and other city officials already are exploring potential strategies for preventing a similar shortage next year.

“We’ve recognized this is a challenge in our field nationally,” he said. “We’re going to have conversations with ourselves and out-of-box thinking on ways that we can improve things.”

Kroger said the city is examining a number of potential barriers that prospective employees may face and ways those barriers could be remedied, such as subsidizing lifeguard certification fees. Wages also will be examined. Currently, seasonal employee wages range from $10 to $19 per hour.

Kroger said lifeguard wages recently were increased from a little more than $10 per hour to $12 per hour, though the city did not see an increase in lifeguard applications as a result.

“We’ll be looking at if our current wages are attractive enough,” he said. “We didn’t see much of an impact when we raised lifeguard wages, but we’re hoping we’ll have more success next year when we can advertise it more.”

Kroger said the city also is exploring potential collaborations with other organizations to develop collaborative efforts to increase the seasonal workforce.

Amy Hawkins, chief human resources officer for the Dubuque Community School District, said the city and the district have begun early conversations about initiatives that could encourage students to take on seasonal work.

“Everyone is looking for ways to increase their workforce, and we are always looking for ways to encourage partners and community organizations to help with that,” she said. “Everyone is going to the drawing board.”

Kroger said a number of strategies have been suggested, including potentially offering school credit for students who take up seasonal positions with the city.

“The logistics of those things are being explored,” he said. “Maybe there is a way to work with gym teachers and offer some credits.”

Kroger stressed that none of the proposals being discussed among staff are being actively implemented currently, but he and other city officials intend to have some strategies implemented in time for next summer.

“Our goal is to get back to the norm, so our hope is to have something in place by then,” Kroger said. “Right now, we are at the whiteboard exploring what all of our options are.”