I recently walked into 700 E. Temple Street, a Los Angeles city building, and saw a long line of young men, all with freshly cropped hair, waiting for the duty officer to process them as potential recruits to the LAPD Police Academy. It was a scene that has not changed in 50 years; until now.
I was there to meet with Wendy Macy, General Manager of the city's Personnel Department, who has been overhauling its HR systems for the past two years to bring them into the digital age. She's responsible for supporting a workforce of 40,000 LA employees, 46 percent of whom are eligible for retirement next year. The way young people are recruited, trained, and retained has to change or the city will grind to a halt. Here's how Macy is going to ensure that doesn't happen.
Judging from the number of recruits downstairs in the lobby, you don't have a problem attracting young people into the LAPD.
That's generally true for the LAPD, and for getting young firefighters into the LAFD, but we're constantly hiring and need fresh recruits. Every month we try to get a class of 50 into the Police Academy. However, I'm passionate that we widen the recruiting pool to include more young women and increase diversity within our ranks, too.
Aside from all those cool ads over town, how else are you doing that on a practical level?
Recent initiatives include the LAFD Girls' Camp. We want to show young people in LA there's no career within the city that isn't available to them. We're also releasing explainer videos which are specifically designed to appeal to them.
As young people are mostly hanging out online, I assume digital is a main thrust of your strategy.
Definitely. In fact, since I took on this role two years ago, we've revamped all the digital presences, putting heavy emphasis on social media for recruiting, even Snapchat; in fact, we're on every social media platform. We know that recruitment depends on finding suitable candidates via their social networks and them finding us there, too. We also use streaming services, like Pandora and Spotify, tailoring our recruitment messages to particular demographics with audio advertising. Recruitment videos now appear on our DASH local transit and also on screens at the Greek Theater as the audiences flow into live gigs.
As Snoop Dogg played at the Greek last month, your recruitment videos might be a ripe source of interesting new recruits.
(Laughs) You never know.
Let's segue to your background. After a law degree at Harvard, you worked in the private sector before transitioning to public service in the Los Angeles Unified School District, topping out as Chief Operating Officer there. But then you skipped town and took the head HR role at County of Sonoma. What made you return to LA?
I was very attracted to what Mayor Garcetti's administration was putting in place with going back to basics; improving city services from the ground up, the innovation, bringing in tech, and so on. There's now massive development around the regeneration of the LA River area, the LA Rams are here, the Arts District is a hot real estate market. Grand Park, which used to be a no-go area after businesses closed for the day, is a wonderful central focus to downtown, and the Expo light rail has transformed getting around the city. It was time to come back.
Human Resources is never usually at the bleeding edge of tech, especially in local government. You must like a challenge.
There was a huge opportunity to change things relatively quickly because during the economic downturn, recruiting technology was, understandably, not a priority. So, when I took this job, we grasped the pipeline problem, and looked immediately to digital to streamline the process and make public service more appealing to younger people coming in.
I heard that, traditionally, recruits apply online and then get called in to take a paper-based multiple-choice test, often in a school auditorium with hundreds of others.
That's still in place but, where we can, we're moving towards an anytime/anywhere testing model, implementing remote testing sites with supervision from proctors, utilizing centralized talent/HR software, from LA-based company Cornerstone. Where we can, we use Skype to do interviews to both broaden our reach and minimize disruptive travel for applicants.
When will people be able to take the standardized tests via laptop, or mobile, at home?
We're always concerned about keeping the integrity of the test, because if you give the test to hundreds of people at once, you don't have to worry about it being compromised. But we are exploring trials right now of timed, session-based software that allows ID verification, remote proctoring via the candidate's laptop's camera, and disables access to the internet.
Aside from LAPD and LAFD recruiting, I picked up some leaflets in the lobby and was surprised to see the variety of roles available, including Tree Surgeon, Traffic Painter, and (personal favorite) Helicopter Mechanic.
I like to say, because we have 35 departments within the city of LA, it's like coming to work for 35 different companies. I've got one employee, who's not atypical, and she's worked in nine different departments. It's great that people move around the city, they build networks between areas, they bring enormous experience and connections.
What about once they're onboard, do you use digital to avoid the deadly mandatory on-the-job training in an airless conference room?
Yes. We have rolled out learning management modules to allow our 40,000 employees to keep their skills up to date and stay employable. We're also using it for disaster management updates, sexual harassment awareness certifications, avoiding unconscious gender/disability bias in hiring and also improving the lives of people who were formerly incarcerated, giving them access to jobs within the city while training hiring managers to recruit and support them. We have video-based modules about how not to 'judge a book by its cover' and be inclusive to all. We want a diverse workforce here.
What's next on your digital roadmap?
This is a massive undertaking, but we're reconfiguring the underlying taxonomy of how we collate and mine data around job classifications. For example, we have 1,000-plus job classifications but young people might not necessarily know, by the title, what that job entails.
Because it's a job title from an earlier era?
Right. So we're layering on interactivity and machine intelligence to bring it up to date. For example—in terms of interactivity—there'll be online guidance programs where someone can drill down into the data, through answering questions and providing information, such as "I have two years of college, these interests, what am I qualified to apply for now?" And they'll get results of jobs they probably didn't know existed.
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Like helicopter mechanic. I'm still thinking about re-training for that one. But I digress. Can you explain the machine intelligence aspect of the HR system?
Still early stages, but we have a massive amount of data within the City of LA Personnel Department, so we can do predictive paths and let you know—with your qualifications today, and what we know about others' journeys through the City of LA departments—what you might expect in five, 10, 15, years in terms of promotions and new challenges.
Final question. With 46 percent of your workforce eligible to retire, you have a lot of institutional knowledge about to walk out the door. Are you using digital to handle "Exit interviews"? People often want to protect what they know due to pride or the desire to consult elsewhere afterwards.
We're very aware of this. Our new HR software will allow us to create videos and documents so that when someone retires, or leaves, we can capture, digitally, the equivalent of a desk manual for those that follow. It also has built-in security protocols so that only members of a group can access, and so on.
So in 2032, someone might come into this office on their first day as General Manager, sit down and and you'll appear on a digital futuristic device, answering their questions and passing on vital tips of the trade on how to survive in local government.
It's an odd thought. But yes (laughs). I'd be happy to help.