By Callie Hietala
Henry County’s Career Fair at Jack Dalton Park on Tuesday showcased careers in public service that are currently available in the county.
Representatives from Henry County Public Schools, Public Safety, and the sheriff’s office attended to discuss the benefits of going to work for their respective institutions. The fair was held as the county struggles with the same employment issues currently facing the rest of the nation—though there are jobs open, there aren’t enough applicants to fill them.
The general disinterest in finding employment was exemplified by the lack of public interest in the fair itself. Few jobseekers visited during parts of the 4-hour event. Representatives from the school system packed up several hours before the event ended.
At a recent meeting of the Henry County Board of Supervisors, Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry described the double-digit job losses faced by his office and asked for increased starting salaries for law enforcement officers. The board directed county staff and Perry to meet and discuss options.
At the hiring event, Perry said his department had a “positive meeting with the county administration” and that county officials now have several options to explore.
In the interim, he has asked his staff to be patient as work on the issue continues.
Perry said that while few people attended the job fair, his office has received some applications to help fill vacant positions.
Matt Tatum, director of Henry County Public Safety, said the county’s EMS division is facing job loss on a scale similar to that of the sheriff’s department, though it does not have as many employees.
Currently, six of 28 full-time positions in public safety are vacant, he said. That represents a little more than a 20 percent reduction in staff with no reduction in the number of calls for service.
Usually, Tatum said, EMS likes to keep four ambulances staffed to share the incoming call volume over the course of a day. On Tuesday, only two were staffed.
Additionally, Tatum said that he has seen a decrease in the number of volunteers who donate time to EMS. The lack of full-time staff and volunteers has led to an increase in call response time or, in some cases, asking for help from EMS personnel from the city or surrounding counties.
Shortages have also caused staff who are still with the department to become exhausted due to everything from overwork to working for 12- and 14-hours, wearing PPE, without a break to constantly worrying about bringing COVID-19 home to their families, he said.
Although jobs in the private sector may have higher pay rates, Tatum said the benefits, retirement packages, and job security that come with a job in the county should be enticing to job-hunters considering a career in public service.
“I’ve always felt that government positions were a calling to serve,” he said, adding that the rewards for his chosen career path aren’t just financial ones.
“It’s really only in the first responder world that you have the opportunity to know you pulled somebody out of a fire or helped someone who was trapped in a car,” Tatum said, and added an additional payoff is often reaped months or even years later.
Then, to see that person walking down the street and know that they are there because you saved their life, “It comes in more payments than financial,” he said.