ND Human Resources Official Says Average Public Worker Salary Numbers Are “Not Very Valid”

Last week a report was issued indicating that North Dakota ranked last in the nation for average compensation for public workers. I felt the report lacked context. Maybe we’re last in the nation in average pay, but how is that impacting our ability to attract and retain qualified employees?

It turns out, despite the low pay, turnover among public workers in the state is actually pretty low:

BISMARCK, ND – A recent study published by the Center for Governmental Research showed North Dakota ranking last in the nation in average pay per state employee at $33,895, but a state human resources official says that ranking doesn’t tell the whole story.

“An overall comparison of average salary is pretty baseless,” said Ken Purdy, Classification and Compensation Manager with the State of North Dakota’s Human Resources Management Services. “It’s not very valid. It depends on the makeup of the workforce, and the employees at various levels. Throwing out a blanket number like that, in a business sense, isn’t very helpful. The true measure in trying to price your employees is a more direct job-to-job comparison of salaries to competing employees.”

According to Purdy, overall the state has an acceptable turn over rate. “We’ve been hanging in around 8%, which in and of itself isn’t particularly high, but what we find is that some areas we have areas we have higher turnover.” Quantifying what challenges may exist for hiring isn’t easy. The state’s hiring is “very decentralized,” according to Purdy and that no central database of applicants per job is kept.

Later in the article Purdy says that the oil boom in the state has caused a great deal of turnover lately by attracting state employees with big pay increases, and who can blame those employees for opting for the bigger pay day? But on the whole, it seems North Dakota is doing an ok job of filling positions with qualified people and retaining them.

Which is all that really matters. It’s irrelevant what other states pay their workers. All that matters is that we pay enough to attract and keep qualified employees, and not a penny more.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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