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State employees are harder to find in booming North Dakota economy

BISMARCK - The state's robust economy and resulting rise in wages is showing in some state agencies' inability to find or keep employees, state Budget Director Pam Sharp told legislators Wednesday.

Sharp said the state's ability to find employees and continually rising fuel costs are two of the worries state budget writers will have going into the 2009 Legislature.

Sharp said that even though the 2007 Legislature rewrote state employee pay scales to reflect 95 percent of the overall job market in an effort to make state hiring competitive, some agencies "are still struggling to fill positions" because "we've seen the market move so dramatically."

In an interview after Sharp's remarks, Jodee Buhr, executive director of the North Dakota Public Employees Association, agreed.

Even though the Legislature took steps in 2007 to make state jobs pay more so they're easier to fill, that progress is being eroded.

"The market, the salary market has just gone up exponentially and so we are so much farther behind the market," she said. "So going into the session we're going to be faced with the same issues (as before)."

One of the biggest issues is what's known as compression. As new employees have to be paid more in order to get them to come on board, longtime employees find they are making little more than the newly hired.

The state is also going to face a demographic issue arising all over the country in the job market, Buhr said. So many senior state employees are becoming eligible for retirement that the state may struggle to ensure it can hire new people who can be trained adequately before the veteran workers start leaving.

Already, she said, some state employees at agencies where jobs are going unfilled are "working harder because they're working at their job and the job of the positions that can't be filled."