A new policy seeks to encourage and reward city employees who complete training that improves their job skills, in turn enabling the city to become more flexible, improve operations and “develop the capacity to provide continuous services at a high level into the future.”
City manager John Connet rolled out the program during the recent Council meeting to the board’s unanimous approval. Public Works and Utilities director Jeff Vreugdenhil also spoke to it, with his department being the focus of the first phase of the new policy’s implementation.
“In our continuing effort to move away from strictly cost of living increases and reward employees who take the initiative to improve themselves, we have developed a Training and Certification Policy,” Connet stated. “This policy will allow us to reward employees who seek out training that will directly improve their skills and abilities to serve our citizens.”
The hope is to encourage employees to seek out training that will benefit them and the city of Clinton.
“It sets a formal policy that gives us a set of standards to follow, so it’s not hit and miss,” Connet said.
For example, an employee with the minimum requirement of Wastewater I level certification may choose to better themselves by ascending toward the highest level of Wastewater operator level 4.
“If they take it upon themselves to take a five-day class and a pretty strenuous exam for each level, that would benefit us because we have a level 4 plant and only one level 4 operator,” said Connet. “It would be nice to have some redundancy in that level, so we would be able to reward those folks because they’re improving their skills, but also becoming more valuable to us toward building that redundancy, and in career development and succession planning.”
The employee could receive a one-time bonus or permanent salary increase, not to exceed 2.5 percent per fiscal year. That would be based on the particular certification — some are outlined in the policy and others to be evaluated as time goes on — with those that result in additional duties at a significantly higher level or increase in variety of work bringing a larger compensation.
While a 2.5 percent pay hike is the highest, certifications and training may result in a smaller percentage bump or $150 one-time bonuses. There are different levels based on the class or certification, Connet noted.
“It’s something that has to require critical thinking and require some time — it’s not just going to a couple hour class,” said Connet. “It has to be something legitimate and it has to improve their skills and abilities.”
Currently, the policy is focused on the Public Works and Utilities Department. It can be applied to other departments in the future, the city manager said.
“I think it’s a grand idea,” said Councilman Steve Stefanovich.
Vreugdenhil explained how the policy would benefit Public Works in particular, notably with succession planning and redundancy.
“I found it really important to try and promote succession planning in Public Works, to where we have people in lower job ranks be prepared for later vacancies,” said Vreugdenhil. “We continually have people retire and have no one in our ranks with the certifications necessary to fill (the position) and we have to advertise outside. I find that to be an error in our operation. I think we can be stronger if we have people who know the job responsibilities in advance.”
That can be as simple as having basic sanitation workers obtaining CDL licenses.
Not only would that give a small bump in pay to those workers, it would help the city in case the driver is sick. Vreugdenhil said such a case now often requires drivers to be taken from other parts of Public Works to drive the garbage routes.
“The policy would just be one of our policies within our Policy Handbook that stays in place,” said Vreugdenhil. “What might be changing is if management wanted to add certain certifications to what was enumerated.”
The program operates on a fiscal year basis and participation in it is voluntary on the part of employees. Those choosing to participate must submit a request form that explains the training or certification they want to complete, the cost and location, a description of how it will benefit job performance and city operations.
They must also document that any prerequisites have been met. Vreugenhil said, while some training may not be extensive as far as the amount of time they take, it is not “free-wheeling.” Bringing back the wastewater treatment operator example, he said there are often years of experience that must be accrued between receiving certification on various levels of wastewater operation before an employee is even eligible to take training.
Requests will either be approved or rejected based on several factors, such as the benefit of the training, employee workload and performance, departmental needs and funds available. If approved, the city will pay for course materials, tuition, transportation and exam fees for the first and second training or certification attempt. For any subsequent attempt, the city will pay only the exam fee.
Any compensation changes could be delayed up to six months after competition to gauge whether it has been successful, the policy states. Additionally, if an employee fails to complete continuing education requirements and loses a certification that brought a salary increase or bonus, the employee may be required to reimburse the bonus amount or be subject to a reduction in pay.
“The training must be approved by the department managers, human resource manager and city manager and have a dramatic impact on the organization,” Connet said. “Once we have the framework, we can review different certifications and reward employees who take the initiative.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.