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Ore. prison faces staff shortages as retirements loom

The Oregon Department of Corrections is struggling to hire new employees as nearly one-fifth of its workforce becomes retirement eligible in 2018


This Nov. 18, 2011 file photo shows a portion of the exterior of the Oregon State Penitentiary, in Salem, Ore.

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File

By Corrections1 Staff

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Corrections is struggling to hire new employees as nearly one-fifth of its workforce becomes retirement eligible in 2018.

The Spokesman-Review reports that the department has about 330 vacancies as the number of Oregon corrections retirements climb. In the third quarter of 2017, 178 employees retired compared to 98 in 2014.

Steve Cox, workforce planning administrator with the DOC, said part of the blame rests on the region’s flourishing economy. Cox explained that when the economy is bad, people will tend to get jobs in law enforcement and corrections.

“Right now, the economy is very strong, which makes it more difficult for public safety agencies to hire,” he said. “We have a shortfall because there’s just not the inventory of qualified applicants out there.”

Cox said almost 20 percent of staff is eligible to retire today, which could worsen the employee shortfall. In the next five years, more than one-third of the current workforce could retire.

“If they all decide to file their paperwork today … we could be in a world of hurt,” he said.

Just under 300 COs are eligible to retire this year, and within five years, that number will nearly double. With agencies across the country struggling with hiring and retaining staff, the Oregon DOC has changed their tactics to draw a new generation of employees.

Cox said the department offers good health and retirement benefits while also paying decent wages. COs in Oregon make an average of $51,000 per year, according to CorrectionalOfficerEdu.

The agency has made mental and physical wellness a priority in order to retain and hire staff.

“The focus we have as an agency toward work-life balance and focusing on our staff and their families, I think is one thing that does help retain employees,” Cox said. “I’ve seen other law enforcement agencies where that focus isn’t there as much.”

Cox said the agency is also trying to understand the millennial generation, which often shies away from government jobs and don’t tend to stay very long. He said the DOC will combat that by offering cross-training and room for advancement.

Cox added that the agency will also streamline the hiring process into one-day recruiting events, where applicants tour facilities, take proficiency tests and undergo interviews. The process previously took eight months to complete.

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