JoCo on the Go Podcast: Working for Johnson County

On JoCo on the Go, episode #144, Johnson County Government, like many businesses and organizations across the country is facing recruitment and retention challenges. Find out how the county is working hard to overcome job market obstacles to ensure you can always count on critical service. Learn which jobs are available and what it takes to work in emergency services.

JoCo on the Go Webcast: Working for Johnson County

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Time Subject
00:27 Introduction
03:02 Challenges with recruitment and retention
06:03 Competitive salaries and benefits
07:25 Staffing our 911 Call Center
14:32 Support for emergency services
15:57 How the Sheriff's Office supports the community
18:32 Why be a public servant?


Theresa Freed 0:00 

Filling vacant positions is a struggle for many agencies, organizations and businesses right now. Johnson County is no exception. On this episode, learn about the many benefits to working for the county and which departments have openings.

Announcer 0:14 

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo. on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 0:27 

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County Government. Johnson County has a big responsibility, providing programs and services to the community. The county is working hard to ensure residents get what they need despite struggles to retain and recruit staff. It's not a problem unique to just the county. Businesses all over are feeling that burden. Here to talk more about how the county is addressing this need, we have a great group of guests with us, including Deputy County Manager Maury Thompson and representatives from our Emergency Services and Human Resources Departments. Thank you all for being here. And as I mentioned, we're gonna go ahead and introduce each of you or give you the opportunity to introduce yourselves, and we'll start with Tamiko.

Tamiko House 0:27 

My name is Tamiko House. I'm with Johnson County Human Resources Department. I currently provide HR support for the District Attorney's Office and also the Department of Emergency Services.

Kate Dorsey 1:11 

Hi, I'm Kate Dorsey. And I am the operations manager for the Department of Emergency Services, the Emergency Communications Division, and this is my 20th year in October.

Theresa Freed 1:32 

Awesome. Alright, Drew.

Drew Hysell 1:34 

Hi, my name is Drew Hysell. I also work in the Department of Emergency Services. I'm in the MED-ACT division. I'm a paramedic. I'm a battalion chief, I currently serve as the south battalion chief on our C shift.

Theresa Freed 1:47 

Alright, thank you. And Jesse.

Jesse Valdez 1:50 

My name is Jesse Valdez. I'm starting my 29th year here at the Johnson County Sheriff's Office. I'm a sergeant in our administration, administrative division, and I support our personnel unit as well. So thanks for the invite. Appreciate it.

Theresa Freed 2:04 

Yes, and thank you all for being here. And obviously emergency services is one of those key areas, people rely on the county to provide those services. And so we're going to talk a lot more about that in just a moment. But first, do you want to just talk generally kind of about what some of the positions are that we have open across the county, and why this is such a critical time? We need to talk about those openings and try to get those positions filled.

Tamiko House 2:10

So we do have a lot of positions that are available, ranging from our admin support roles. We have positions available at the Department of Corrections, whether it be a correctional officer, we also have positions for our dispatchers, our paramedics, our EMTs, our custodians. I mean, we just have a lot of positions that are available and open for recruitment at this time.

Theresa Freed 2:55

So Maury, if you can talk a little bit about the challenges that the county has really had with recruitment and retention.

Maury Thompson 3:01 

So as we know, there are significant recruitment and retention challenges right now in the labor market, not only here in Johnson County, but across the region. And quite frankly, across the country. We've been forced, if you will, to get very creative in trying to address some of those challenges. We were actually very fortunate that the Board of County Commissioners last May had just updated our Human Resources policies, really giving us some flexibility and some new tools, if you will, that allowed us to get more aggressive in this market. So for us, the timing was very good. We've introduced a number of those tools again to try to assist us in this market. We're now using sign-on bonuses. We're looking at relocation reimbursements for certain hard to recruit and hard to fill positions. We've been looking at things like vacation accrual acceleration, again, as one of those tools for recruitment of hard to fill positions. We've been using referral bonuses and in some of our areas within the organization that have large numbers of direct support or frontline workers. We have found these in particular to be a great tool to talk to their friends, their family about working for Johnson County and using the referral bonus. We've also looked at retention bonuses, again, I talked about the dual challenges of recruitment and retention. Trying to retain people in this market has become critical for us. So we've been looking at retention bonuses again, in those difficult to fill and hire for positions. And then we've been looking at other bonus mechanisms as well. All of these tools are meant to address the issues of recruitment and retention, but also trying to be a good steward of the taxpayer dollar by not adding to base salaries that ongoing cost if we can avoid it, and using one-time incentives, again, to try to address these problems.

Theresa Freed 3:01 

You know, typically when people think of government jobs, they might not think of competitive wages, they might think these are lower wage jobs. And so can you talk about how closely our Human Resources Department really monitors what's happening out in the job market and tries to tailor salaries and benefits to be competitive?

Tamiko House 5:36 

So with our positions, we often do market surveys to go out and see what similar positions that we do have in the area and what those positions are being compensated at. And then we basically, you know, go in to be able to match our positions to pay what is fair market value for those. And so we do that often with all of our positions. We actually just are going through a study as of right now, making sure that our wages stay competitive.

Theresa Freed 6:03 

And I'm trying to remember what the term is, it's like the total compensation package is pretty impressive when you look at the salary and then all of those benefits that come along with many of the positions within the county. So great medical benefits for sure, dental, that free gym membership or reduced cost gym membership, depending on where you go. Those are huge benefits too. And there's also a lot of training that is involved in a lot of the positions. Not just, you know, that sort of on the job training, but like continuing your education. Can you talk about how the county supports that as well?

Tamiko House 6:40 

So we do have tuition reimbursement. We do have where individuals who are continuing education where they can basically get to tuition reimbursement once they complete classes. And so we do offer that, which is also an excellent thing with our organization and what we provide.

Theresa Freed 6:56 

So when we talked about the need, when it comes to recruitment and retention, emergency services is one of those critical areas. And people might not realize all the ways the county supports emergency services in the community. And so we want to talk a little bit about those services that are provided, and also the need to recruit and retain for this position. So we're going to start off with our 911 Call Center. So Kate, can you talk a little bit about what's happening with the recruitment and retention efforts?

Kate Dorsey 7:26 

And with the staffing the way it is, we're always looking for people that are, you know, the flexibility, the resiliency and the ability to work anytime, which is, you know, days, nights, weekends, evenings. And so that can be a little daunting. And so our biggest thing is trying to get people in here and then provide a type of environment that is conducive to learning. And then keeping them so that they can contribute and actually help alleviate and give that work life balance back to everybody. And right now, that's one of our biggest goals here.

Theresa Freed 8:04 

And what does the pay scale look like for those positions?

Kate Dorsey 8:08 

Yeah, so a starting dispatcher, I believe the pay scale starts at $2,088 without experience, which is one of the best things about being a dispatcher. And by the way, our particular, what I do at the DES communications is, we are fire and medical for all of Johnson County, so we handle all fire and medical calls. And then we handle all the medical calls for Miami County, to dispatch them. So it's a lot of calls. In fact, our call volume has increased by, by the end of this year, we're on goal to increase to 10,000 calls dispatched since 2017, which is significant. And it just goes to show how important the role is and how important it is for dispatching. One of the unique things about our employment is that there are no certifications required at all to become a dispatcher. So anybody can come in as long as you have a high school diploma and your background screenings and everything check out, you come in, we train you. And so we do all of the classroom, we do all of your CPR and your...we have emergency medical dispatching protocol for every single caller, fire dispatching. We train, on the job training, classroom training, everything, and we give that person everything they need. So everything that we do is in house, and I think that that's something that we can offer that somebody else might not be able to where we do all the training in house. So that's beneficial I think, which means we can always adapt our training to meet the requirements. We're at minimum staffing so we have to adapt our training and figure out ways to get somebody through quicker. Where one of our call takers is getting CPR instructions and MED-ACT. One of Drew's folks get on scene and they triage them code blue and then they triage them a critical. That means that our dispatcher was probably helped and assisted with getting that person to a critical. So we give them awards. And at the end of the year, we celebrate how many they've had throughout the year. We are an accredited agency, which is absolutely amazing. It means that we're following the same standards and providing the best customer service to the citizens, as far as the medical dispatching and as far as the instructions and all of that goes. And we've been accredited since 2020, which is, I mean, I don't want to toot our defenders' horns, but I mean, I do want to toot their horns, they're amazing call takers. And so they have to have compliant calls. And so whoever has the most, we actually have a board up that shows all of their, how many compliant calls they've had for the month. And it's just a lot of things like that. Just little things that we do to recognize them.

Theresa Freed 10:51 

And that's important. When people feel well supported in their job, that usually is a good indicator that they're going to be more willing to stick around too. So I think that's great. But it is a struggle right now. I mean, just like every place, we want to convey that there are openings, people can apply for these jobs, but we are still providing these critical services. So if you just want to reiterate that case.

Kate Dorsey 11:15 

Absolutely. There are, again, going back to the work-life balance, that is something that, with trying to get to a full staffing place where everybody's time off is protected time off, where they're actually going to have that off. Our call volume does not decrease, it is only increasing. The needs of the public are, you know, it increases every single year, at least by 1,000. Like I said, to 2,000 a year our call volume is. And so we have to be able to meet those needs and not compromise any of our services or any of the integrity of anything that we're doing on the floor with every single phone call, with any interaction, any processing that we're doing a call. So yeah, it's important in that it's just a very important job.

Theresa Freed 12:08 

Alright, thanks for that. And Drew, I'm sure you can kind of reiterate that same message. I know, there's been a little bit of confusion about the decrease in number of ambulances out on the street, but you know, the services are still being provided. So you can you talk a little bit about that?

Drew Hysell 12:23 

We certainly have had our struggles during the pandemic of looking for qualified applicants, keeping qualified applicants. Our community has certainly been growing. And that didn't stop during the pandemic. So we had to grow our services during that time period, which certainly proved to be very difficult. Our paramedics have been working a tremendous amount of extra shifts, and we had to take some steps to try to work towards retaining those paramedics by, like Kate said, giving them their time off. So we did reallocate some resources. Our community is still very, very well served by these resources. We reorganized some rigs and we actually gained our ability to have another ambulance on the weekend. So the community is still well served. in Johnson County, our ambulances were always staffed with two paramedics. The paramedic certification degree can take anywhere between two years and a fast-paced course could be even 11 to 13 months. And so that, essentially, a paramedic has a very similar scope of practice as what you might consider an ER nurse, many of the same skill sets. They can start IVs, work on airways and do triage and give a litany of medications. During our staffing struggles, we expanded our employee base to be able to attract and hire the best clinicians available. And so that allowed us to bring EMTs into our organization. Increased our talent pool tenfold. Allowed us to bring in EMTs that might already be in paramedic school. EMT education can take, it's around a 200 to 250 hour certification, but it's certainly a lot simpler to get their EMT certification. But a lot of times those EMTs find themselves wanting to do more and learn more, and they go through that paramedic track. So this allows us to get those folks into our organization. And allow them hopefully to stay for a long, fruitful career.

Theresa Freed 14:24 

And so they also receive on the job training. So there's that advanced training before they even get in the door. But then they also have a lot of support when they're here. Can you talk about that?

Drew Hysell 14:32 

Yeah, that's one of those facets that makes our organization stand out. And that we have our own education division, a division chief of education and three captains that help all of our employees maintain their certifications. I certainly, in prior jobs, didn't have any kind of support, where I had to get all my certifications through conferences and those types of things on my own. I worked at the county for 15 years and I haven't had to attend a single class on my own. So all of our education is handled in house, so we can take that training of our new employees, our new recruits. And we can tailor our training to fill in the gaps of what those employees need to know. We've found that as we have recruited more aggressive, we are hiring employees and candidates with a wealth of information and knowledge from other services. So we can use that, use our own organic resources to fill in those blanks.

Theresa Freed 15:33 

That's terrific. alright. And Jesse, I know it's made headlines, talking about the tremendous need for the Sheriff's Office to fill those positions. People probably don't realize it's not just Sheriff's deputies out, you know, in the community, but we also serve a court system and other places. So can you talk a little bit about all the ways the Sheriff's Office is supporting the community?

Jesse Valdez 15:57 

We do. Yes, yes. Thanks, Teresa. You don't besides patrol, which everybody sees, warrants and civil, probably our biggest manpower is in our detention centers that, you know, we have two detention centers, a central booking facility, which is downtown Olathe, as well as right out here at New Century, Kansas, just north of Gardner, is our New Century Adult Detention Center. So you know, we're allotted for 500 deputies, and unfortunately, we have about 436, 437. And we are in need of people that, you know, have a heart for service, they want to come work with us and they want to serve their community. And you know, there are many communities that don't have that support from the community. Johnson County does. They're very pro-law enforcement.

Theresa Freed 16:47 

Certainly important in Johnson County, having that sense of safety. And again, we want to reiterate that even though these positions are down, the Sheriff's Office is doing everything it can to ensure continued safety, if you want to just speak to that.

Jesse Valdez 17:00 

Yeah, we are. We, you know, we are moving some divisions around, one being court security is what we are currently doing now. So those deputies that are assigned to that division are temporarily reassigned to our detention center. And we have another position that's open that's called a security specialist that you need 10 years of previous law enforcement to apply for, and that position is...we have full-time positions and also are implementing part-time positions as well to help staff those positions. And they are assigned to our courthouse, and right now they're working four 10s. And trying to keep that building, in keeping that building secure as well, while we go through these trying to hire people.

Theresa Freed 17:55 

Alright, very good. So again, emergency services, very critical to Johnson County, very important to the residents. So if we have listeners out there who think they could potentially fill some of these spots, Tamiko, how do they apply?

Tamiko House 18:11 

So you can go to our website, which is on our Johnson County Government website. It is jococareers. And if you go there, you're able to apply and see the jobs available.

Theresa Freed 18:22 

Alright, that's terrific. And before we wrap up, any of you want to talk a little bit about why you are a public servant and why you enjoy working for the county.

Jesse Valdez 18:32 

Yeah, I'll start off with that. Again, wanted a career in law enforcement. I also wanted to help people. Johnson County Sheriff's Office has over 11 different divisions, it's different than a state trooper or a city police officer. There's a warrant civil, we have drug task force, we have court security, court services, again detention, patrol. We have a crime lab as well. And definitely, it's a great career. It's a career that's very rewarding. You can help people and, like we talked about earlier, a lot of great benefits: retirement, KPERS, KP&F, as well as a health and dental, and it's just a great place to work.

Theresa Freed 19:21 

Alright, anyone else?

Kate Dorsey 19:22 

Yeah. I'm sorry, Drew.

Drew Hysell 19:25 

Ah, go ahead Kate, you beat me to it.

Kate Dorsey 19:28 

I would actually just like to promote the fact, and with dispatching especially in fire and EMS and what we do here, when I started. I in a former life I worked for a dating service. I mean, 20 years ago, that's what I did. And the point to that is I had no experience. No public safety, no fire, no EMS, no law enforcement, nothing. And so now 20 years later, that's what my whole life was, learning or that's what I've been doing. So it means that anybody can come in here and from any background, from any walk of life with any personality and learn this and know that they're helping people. And so there are so many opportunities, you know, from dispatching, call taking, to becoming a trainer, to becoming a supervisor. And then beyond, we have so many opportunities here for growth. So I think that's very important for everybody to know that. It's a job for anybody. It's a career for anybody to consider.

Drew Hysell 20:34 

Such good comments. I think all of them, I would like to mirror, being a paramedic and being an EMT, is a very rewarding career. I worked in the private sector and quickly figured out that I wanted to try to find a career path that was sustainable, something that supported my family and having a good work-life balance. I wanted to work somewhere that had a great retirement system. And like Sergeant Valdez mentioned, KP&F and the state of Kansas, and with the KPERS system, nothing beats it. I found when I got to Johnson County, I moved here from out of state, and found out that this was certainly an organization where my family could grow and thrive. I was challenged and had a very rewarding career here, taking care of people on the worst days of their lives. We get to help them problem solve their medical conditions, and try to make sure they have that best possible outcome to that medical emergency.

Theresa Freed 21:34 

That's wonderful. And thank you all for all the hard work that you guys are doing on behalf of the community. And Tamiko, anything to add to that?

Tamiko House 21:41 

I also came from the private sector. I've been with accounting for a little over nine years. And I would just say that I've had the pleasure of working and providing HR support to so many different departments to where we have so much that we are able to offer the community. Also, if you start with a department, and if it's not a good fit for you, there's so many other departments that may have openings that are a better fit for you. And so I think that it's just a really good organization to work for.

Theresa Freed 22:07 

What have you enjoyed about working for Johnson County?

Maury Thompson 22:11 

So over the last 15 years, I've been with Johnson County. And when I think about what has brought me the most joy in being an employee of this organization is the opportunity to work with some of the best and the brightest people in local government service. And I know, you may hear that from others who work in other organizations. But I really do believe it's true here. It makes this job fun every day, coming to work with the best and brightest in the field to challenge you to think differently, to think creatively, and always to challenge you.

Theresa Freed 22:47 

Great information. And thank you all for, again, all the hard work that you're doing. And then also sharing the information about our openings and the opportunities available within Johnson County. So as Tamiko mentioned, you can just go to our website, And at the very top, you'll see there's a career section, you can click on that and search for the jobs. You know, it might be an opportunity to change a career or to further your career. There's lots of different ways to get involved with the community. And also if you don't want to necessarily change careers, we also have lots of volunteer opportunities. That's a great way to get to learn the organization too and maybe get your foot in the door that could turn into a career someday. So again, thank you all and thank you for listening.

Announcer 23:26 

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at jocogov. For more on this podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

Human Resources