6/29/2009 2:51:00 PM Economy leads to surge in applications for government jobs in Johnson County
Bargersville Utilities wastewater treatment plant supervisor Vickie Simic conducts a test at the treatment plantís lab. The town has received several applications for jobs, though none are open. Staff photo by Scott Roberson
By the numbers
300 Applications Greenwood police received for its hiring list this year
Less than 100 Applications Greenwood police received for a 2007 hiring list
10 The number of times a Greenwood police applicant had his driver's license suspended, which is a rarity in police officer candidates
More than 20 Qualified applicants considered for jobs at the Johnson County jail this year
3 to 6 Qualified applicants the jail typically gets when hiring
More than 100 Applications the county received for an executive administrative assistant position this year
$25 Fee the Greenwood Fire Department wants to charge to help with the cost of sorting through applications and testing candidates
Up to 12 Applications the town of Bargersville receives weekly, although no positions are currently open
10 People asking the town manager if Whiteland is hiring so far this year. Previously, that is how many people asked during the course of a year.
108 Applications for an art teacher position at Pleasant Crossing Elementary School
8.4 percent Johnson County's unemployment rate in May
Good benefits, regular hours and a hope for stability have driven hundreds of people to apply for government jobs across the county.
After being laid off from their jobs or watching as others have been let go, workers are turning to government for a stable job that likely won't be eliminated because of downsizing.
Fire departments, police departments and cities are getting two to four times more applicants for jobs this year than in the past.
Some governments are getting as many as a dozen applications a week, even though they have no open positions.
Most officials cite the economy as the main factor, since many view government jobs as being recession proof. Government jobs often come with good benefits, such as health insurance and retirement and steady, regular hours.
And while many businesses have had layoffs or aren't hiring, governments are.
The Bargersville Fire Department recently received 75 applications for at least nine firefighter positions. The city of Franklin is considering adding at least two positions, and the sheriff plans to ask to hire additional jail officers next year after hiring four this year.
"In this day and age, it's difficult to have something more secure than a municipal job. It's about as secure as you can get," Bargersville utilities superintendent Mike Davis said.
The town isn't hiring but recently filled a street worker position. Since March, he has gotten as many as 12 applications a week for positions that might open up, about three times as many as would normally come in, Davis said.
The surge of applications means that governments have more applicants to consider, leading some to make changes in their review process.
For example, as the Greenwood Fire Department prepares to accept applications for an opening, officials are considering charging an application fee to cover expenses for merit board members who will sort through the paperwork and for testing of candidates.
About 50 to 60 people applied the most recent time the department had a vacancy, but that number is expected to climb dramatically because of the economy, Greenwood Fire Chief James Sipes said.
While the increased interest has helped governments find more qualified candidates for open positions, some officials are concerned that the people who want the jobs now won't want to work in government anymore once the economy improves.
That's one of Greenwood Police Chief Joe Pitcher's concerns as he prepares to sort through about 300 applications received so the department can update its hiring list.
The department has four open officer positions but has not been fully staffed in years, Pitcher said. The hiring list is kept for one to two years and used to hire new officers as positions open.
"We want police officers, not just people who are filling a hole," he said.
The most recent time the department accepted applications, fewer than 100 people applied, he said.
This time, the department didn't even advertise that applications were being accepted, and more than three times as many applied, Pitcher said.
Because of the increase, the department changed its policy for reviewing potential police officers.
That change bumped up a basic check of an applicant's criminal and driving history to one of the first steps on the list because as many as 30 percent of people applying have been in trouble with the law, Pitcher said.
One applicant had a suspended license and had 10 convictions, he said.
He estimates about 100 of the people applying either have been convicted of a crime or have marks on their driving record. Those applications are reviewed by the merit board, which decides if the candidates can move forward in the hiring process, Pitcher said.
For some of the people, a job in government isn't something they ever considered or really want to do, Edinburgh utilities superintendent John Drybread said.
"People are desperate looking for work because there are no jobs and they have the same bills as anyone else. They're not looking for a career. They're just saying they need a check," Drybread said.
The town isn't hiring but has received more than 60 applications for jobs that might become available, he said.
Many of the people applying were laid off recently from area manufacturing jobs, but he also has received applications from recent college graduates and retired workers, he said.
He has gotten more than 20 applications for an electrical utility worker position that is open but is not planned to be filled until later this year. For that job, many of the applicants formerly worked as linemen before being laid off when new construction slowed. And they live as far away as northern and southern Indiana, he said.
Officials said the increase in applications is helping them find more qualified applicants than they normally would.
The Franklin Fire Department is updating its hiring list this year, and about 40 applicants met new requirements, including an emergency medical technician certification and certain training levels for firefighters.
That number isn't higher than the normal number of candidates who would typically go on to further testing, but it was a surprise considering the new requirements, fire merit commission president Gene White said.
An increase in applications helped the Johnson County jail find more qualified applicants to work as correctional officers, sheriff's office special deputy Bill Cruser said.
The jail's staff is currently full, but some workers were hired recently.
During the application process, he received more than 20 applications from qualified applicants, a number that usually doesn't top five or six, Cruser said.
"We've got a lot of good applications from good applicants, and there are a lot of people looking for jobs," he said.
More applicants this time had more years of experience and had worked at fewer jobs, two positive traits for a job candidate, Cruser said.
But he saw about the same number of applicants with and without experience in the law enforcement field as in past years, he said.
"People become desperate. There are a lot of people and not a lot of jobs. They're looking at careers they weren't interested in before," he said.