Personnel Seeks Data on Why Young Employees are Leaving

Sen. Stedmann Hodge chairs Monday's Senate hearing. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the Virgin Islands)
Sen. Stedmann Hodge chairs Monday’s Senate hearing. (Photo by Barry Leerdam, Legislature of the Virgin Islands)

Dayna Clendenin, director nominee of Division of Personnel, admitted the government has a problem retaining young employees, but she does not have the data to say why.

Although many agencies conduct exit interviews and others have forms filled out by departing employees telling the reasons for leaving, the procedure is not uniform across the government.

On Monday, Clendenin told members of the Senate Committee on Education and Workforce Development that a new policy and procedure manual was under review at the division and the new procedures and the data may soon be obtainable.

Sen. Allison DeGazon asked Clendenin for the division to supply the new 250-page manual, that includes an update on processing Notices of Personnel Action, to the senate.

Although there could be many reasons for younger employees to leave government service in the Virgin Islands – low pay, high cost of living, working conditions in facilities that have not recovered from the 2017 hurricanes, and long time-processing for official hiring and first check processing. Government employees also see an elephant in the room. Young employees are paying more than 11 percent of every paycheck into the Government Employee Retirement System, which is predicted to fail as early as 2022. Even if the younger workers, those hired after Oct. 1, 2005, did find GERS solvent when they retired, their benefits will be significantly lower than the older employees hired before that date.

Sen. Kenneth Gittens questioned Clendenin about employees who are told they have been hired but then, for a long time, are not issued a Notice of Personal Action. The NOPA is necessary for processing paychecks and everything else to make a person an official employee of the government.

Gittens said he knew a person waiting two years for her NOPA. Clendenin said the division has been looking at the process of NOPAs and found that the correct documents are not forwarded from the agency doing the hiring for several weeks, but the NOPA only sits in the Personnel Division for an average of five days. NOPAs also have to go through the Finance Department and be signed by the governor.

Gittens said he brought up the specific problem with this employee at a hearing two months ago and she has still not received a NOPA.

DeGazon told Clendenin the NOPA issue was very important and should be high on her to-do list.

Gittens said the government is at fault at times for not keeping good employees. He said many times an employee works his or her way up through the ranks to become a director or commissioner and then a new administration comes in and wants its people in place and a person who has invested a career in a department is let go.

“These are people with bills to pay,” he said, and they often leave the island to continue their career.

Gittens was also concerned about how testing was administered. He cited the example in which the government had a hard time filling 911 operator positions because many locals failed the test. He wondered if there were some kind of trick questions on the tests or questions that were not in pace with Virgin Island culture.

Several senators were also concerned about training being offered to employees.

“We have to be more assertive in getting training for employees on customer service,” committee chairman Sen Stedmann Hodge Jr. said.

Sen. Javan James suggested the Department of Personnel do something along the lines of a “mystery shopper” to find out which departments were strong in customer service and which were weak.

Clendenin told the senators the division was now receiving applications for a Certified Public Manager Program. The nationally accredited, comprehensive management development program is open to government employees. The program’s primary goal is to improve the performance of public sector managers and supervisors.

Participants in the group usually meet three days per month, and classes are held on St. Thomas and St. Croix at the University of the Virgin Islands.