City of Kent to pay $2.4 million for temporary IT employees

Staff claims region’s demand for information technology jobs makes hirings difficult

With the high demand in the Puget Sound region for information technology employees, the city of Kent recently decided to hire a staffing and recruiting agency for $2.49 million over the next two years to fill jobs.

The City Council approved a contract last month with California-based Robert Half International at a cost of about $1.1 million in 2019 and $1.3 million in 2020 for technology contract positions rather than hiring more full-time employees.

Mike Carrington, city director of Information Technology, explained the reasons for paying for temporary employees.

“Because we’re competing with the nonprofit and private sectors for talent in the region, it can be exceedingly difficult to fill vacancies and targeted needs,” Carrington said in an email. “Mandates to maintain lean operations require that we look to get the most out of existing staff and augment accordingly to meet more short- to medium-term needs.

“Contracted and temporary staff enable us to do this without the long-term overhead commitment of a FTE (full-time employee). We also encounter the need for niche and/or highly specialized skill sets for short-term business requirements that simply don’t make sense to fill with an FTE.”

Information technology companies are using contract employees more and more.

“The use of staffing, consulting and contracting firms is a common practice in the information technology field, especially,” Carrington said. “Firms like RHT/Robert Half Technology help fill the personnel and skill set gaps that departments like mine consistently encounter because we either don’t have the positions and/or don’t possess the necessary skill sets.”

Carrington said the city has a JDE Edwards developer on contract as the city looks to replace its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERT) system with a more modern and business focused solution, a project scheduled to be completed by December 2020.

“JDE developers are in very high demand in the workforce as are many technology professionals in the tech hot-bed that is the Puget Sound region,” Carrington said. “They’re able to command increasingly higher pay, the ability to pick and choose from a myriad of job offerings and are exceedingly difficult to not only attract, but especially retain. As a public sector entity, we are always competing with both the private and nonprofit sectors for talent to fill openings or needs we have.”

The city could have as few as three or as many as 20 IT contract staff working at any given time as the hires will mostly focus on short- to medium-term projects, Carrington said. Several of the contractors will work off premises as cloud-based offerings don’t necessarily require workers to be in the city offices but rather use video conference calls or online collaboration to solve problems.

Several of the projects contract employees will help with include the new Axon body cameras and in-car video that police officers will use; replacing Human Resources finance, payroll and timekeeping business needs; and Laserfiche Deployment that involves scanning, imaging, indexing and retrieval of documents and media throughout the city.

The city’s IT Department has 37 employees, although that includes six who work in the multimedia division. Thirteen work in development, nine in tech services, six in project management and three in administration. The department has an annual operating expense of $9.6 million in 2019 and $10 million in 2020. The department has more than 40 projects scheduled for the next two years.

Who is Robert Half International?

Founded in 1948, Robert Half pioneered the idea of professional staffing services, according to its website.

Robert Half is a $5 billion professional services organization and has staffing and consulting operations in more than 400 locations worldwide. The company has regional offices in Bellevue, Federal Way, Lynnwood, Seattle and Spokane.

A Robert Half representative declined to answer during a phone interview how many other government contracts the company has in the Seattle area, Washington state or nationwide.

“We can’t comment on any client activity,” said the representative who asked that her name not be used. “We are not able to share any of that information.”

Robert Half makes money off the city contract by taking a portion of the hourly rate paid to each of its temporary employees. Carrington said the contracting firm establishes a baseline hourly billing rate based on the core competency/skill set of the contractor (e.g. JDE developer), which typically is a reflection of what the current competitive market will bear.

The company certainly pays its leaders well.

Harold M. Messmer Jr., the chairman and CEO, is expected to make $9.1 million this year, according to salary.com. Keith Waddell, vice chairman, president and chief financial officer, will make $7.2 million and Paul F. Gentzkow, president and chief operating officer, will receive $6.3 million. The compensation combines yearly base pay and bonuses.

The city wasn’t required to go through the bid process to hire Robert Half, City Attorney Pat Fitzpatrick said in an email. Kent City Code for technical support contracts are not subject to bidding requirements.

“However, staff is required to make reasonable efforts to obtain the best price when contracting for tech support services,” Fitzpatrick said.

Carrington didn’t reply to questions from the Kent Reporter about how Robert Half was selected or if other companies were considered.

State law requires cities to bid contracts for architect and land surveyor contracts, as well as public works contracts over $116,155 in value, Fitzpatrick said. He said the city has established bidding requirements for numerous other types of contracts despite no corresponding state law requirement.

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