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Georgia seeking entry-level employees to fill openings

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The state is looking to fill about 45 positions at Hays State Prison, according to a Georgia Department of Corrections representative at the Goodwill job fair Tuesday in Rome.

But, despite the current unemployment rate, the hiring isn’t always easy, said Lt. Christopher McAlister.

“Out of the 30 or so that applied, I would be extremely pleased if we could get 10 — due to background investigations,” he said. “And some people, when they speak to their spouse, their children; they think about it and change their mind.”

The openings at Hays State are among the hundreds the state of Georgia is attempting to fill, thanks to improving tax collections, some reforms that freed up money and a crisis or two that forced leaders’ hand.

The Department of Corrections is hiring prison guards. The Department of Juvenile Justice needs corrections officers, and the Department of Family and Children Services is adding 175 child-welfare caseworkers.

At Juvenile Justice, the agency has suffered 57 percent turnover in staff as a result of low pay, poor supervision and a lack of objective promotion criteria, according to a recent state audit. DFACS has been the focus of intense public and political criticism after reports of children dying in its care showed it was understaffed. And Corrections has been hit by a spike in inmate deaths and increased violence.

Gov. Nathan Deal convinced the General Assembly to budget money for addition caseworkers and pay raises for the juvenile and adult jailers, funded partly with savings from criminal-justice reforms enacted over the last three years.

Since the state fiscal year starts July 1, the agencies are gearing up now with hiring fairs and job postings.

“I probably average three to four of these a month,” McAlister said about the job fair, which drew 182 people seeking work.

Finding enough qualified workers isn’t easy, according to private-sector recruiters.

“One of the issues the state has is they have been in a hiring freeze and no pay raises for years. That word gets out,” said Randall W. Hatcher, president of MAU Workforce Solutions in Augusta.

And the agencies understand the jobs are challenging and aren’t suited for everyone.

“It is a difficult job. It takes a special person to want to work in corrections,” said Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens.

His outfit likes to recruit military veterans because of the similarities in ranks, mission and paramilitary organization. It is holding a job fair each month at the state’s military installations, including one at Fort Gordon June 26 where officials will hire on the spot and grant pay boosts for years of military service.

Juvenile Justice is not as quick to hire as Corrections, in order to avoid the problems that led to its high turnover. Instead, it is adding a pre-employment exam and a personality profile that have already improved the turnover rate by 15 percent, according to department spokesman Jim Shuler.

“Juvenile justice is a different kind of corrections. It requires experience on the job,” he said.

On the other hand, DFACS wants its new caseworkers to come with some experience already and a degree in social work, notes spokeswoman Susan Boatwright.

“We’re trying to be pretty choosy,” she said.

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