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Are you a state employee? What NC candidates who want to be your boss say about vacancies

There are about 76,000 state employees in North Carolina. Many are in state agencies led by elected officials, or by someone hired by those same politicians.

Those agencies have grappled with a vacancy rate between 20% and 25% since the COVID-19 pandemic. The vacancy rate was 22.4% in November, according to the most recent data available from the Office of State Human Resources.

Major issues surrounding the retention of state employees have included salaries, pay scale, amount of annual raises and benefits.

The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer asked all candidates for governor in the March 5 primary election the same question about what they think should be done to address state employee vacancies. Three of the candidates are already elected officials on the Council of State, who lead offices and agencies where state employees work.

What should be done to address staff vacancies in state government?

Here’s what they said. You can read the full candidate questionnaires in our Voter Guide: newsobserver.com/voter-guide

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, Republican candidate:

“My goal will be to create a culture of excellence in state government (that) will better recruit and retain employees while better supporting those who have already dedicated years of service to North Carolina. Our state agencies exist to serve the citizens of our state, and state employees and taxpayers alike deserve a culture of high professional standards that will serve the people of North Carolina well and allow our agencies to better recruit and retain qualified professionals for years to come.”

State Treasurer Dale Folwell, Republican candidate:

“Do a better job of highlighting our benefits and selling the virtue of public service with our youth.”

Mike Morgan, Democratic candidate:

“Conduct a comprehensive audit to evaluate the need to fill these vacancies and, where appropriate, allow unnecessary positions which are vacant to lapse. Thereafter, aggressively and adeptly recruit attractive candidates for state government employment to fill the remaining vacancies through initial and periodic incentives, both financial and non-financial.”

Attorney General Josh Stein, Democratic candidate:

“We have got to pay our workers who serve the public better. The disparity between the same job in the public and private sector is stark, and our state employees are undervalued. We are seeing too many vacancies throughout state government in critical jobs, like in prisons and schools, because their pay is too low. We need competitive salaries and benefits, family and medical leave, and meaningful opportunities for professional development and career advancement.”

Marcus Williams, Democratic candidate:

“The current General Assembly needs to manifest more respect for state government employees pertaining to raises and career encouragement.”

Shannon Bray, Libertarian candidate:

“Vacancies give us an opportunity to reduce our government footprint. It will depend on what the role is.”

Mike Ross, Libertarian candidate:

“It depends where the vacancies are and the functions performed.”

Gubernatorial candidates Chrelle Booker, Gary Foxx and Bill Graham did not respond to the Observer and N&O candidate questionnaires.

Lt. Gov., Labor, other candidates

We also asked primary candidates who want to be lieutenant governor the same question about state employee vacancies. You can read their answers to that and other questions in our Voter Guide: newsobserver.com/voter-guide

The Department of Labor is one agency that has felt the vacancy rates acutely. Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson asked state lawmakers repeatedly to increase salaries to help retain and hire for positions that are particularly hard to fill, like elevator inspectors.

Dobson isn’t running for reelection. Only Republicans have a contested primary on March 5. Here’s what those candidates answered to a similar question of “What should be done to address staff vacancies in your agency and in state government as a whole?”

Jon Hardister, Republican candidate:

“As labor commissioner, I will do my best to promote a positive, collaborative work environment. I will also work with the N.C. General Assembly to ensure that our salaries are competitive.”

Luke Farley, Republican candidate:

“The most pressing staff vacancies at the Labor Department are elevator inspectors. The challenge for the department is how to attract qualified inspectors from the private sector. As labor commissioner, I’ll convene a working group of trade groups, safety advocates, and others to develop a plan with broad buy-in, including potentially creating an apprenticeship program for elevator inspectors.”

Travis Wilson, Republican candidate:

“First determine if existing staff are being utilized efficiently and then engage in conversations with high school students who are choosing an education path to pursue after graduation.”

You can also read answers about state employees from other Council of State candidates in our Voter Guide:

Secretary of State

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Auditor

Treasurer

Insurance Commissioner

Attorney General

Agriculture Commissioner