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March 4, 1999

Streamlined job classification plan expected to go into effect July 1

Streamlined job classification plan expected to go into effect July 1

A plan to streamline the number of staff job classifications, identify career paths and improve staff retention at Pitt is scheduled to go into effect July 1, Human Resources officials say.

The plan will introduce new concepts and terminology, including "job families" and "job trees." But no one's salary will be lowered — nor will anyone get an increase, except possibly a few staff who are currently underclassified, said Ron Frisch, associate vice chancellor for Human Resources.

"It is important to note that this is a staff job classification plan, not a salary plan," he said. "What it's not going to do is increase or cut salaries.

"Departments are getting drafts now of the plan, and they can react to it," Frisch said, "but we should be ready [to implement the plan] in July."

Frisch reported on the plan at the Feb. 19 meeting of the University Senate's budget policies committee. He also shared a draft copy with Staff Association Council (SAC) officers last week.

A preliminary outline of the plan had been presented at the SAC-sponsored fall staff assembly in November.

Pitt staff jobs were last reclassified in 1987. Excluding unionized employees and some upper-administration staff who are not covered by the plan, about 4,500 staff positions are being evaluated, according to Human Resources.

Currently, there are 155 Pitt job classifications, a number that will be cut in half, Frisch said. The number of job pay grades will stay at about 25, although salary ranges will be evaluated and the maximum pay ranges may be raised in some cases, he said.

Human Resources officials are waiting for feedback on the draft plan from administrators and other personnel, and for that reason would not give plan details to the University Times, Frisch said.

SAC president Rich Colwell said, "Although Human Resources shared a draft copy of the proposed staff classification plan [with SAC officers] last week, we have been asked to keep its contents confidential.

"Since we have not been able to discuss this with any of our constituents, it makes it difficult for us to present a position statement. We have not seen any benchmarking data, nor have we seen the proposed salary ranges by classification. Thus, we feel at this time we cannot make an informed judgment about the plan."

Colwell said Frisch has offered to meet with SAC members for a question-and-answer session, but that meeting has not been scheduled yet.

Compensation supervisor Mark Burdsall said that, as of the end of February, administrators in 38 percent of Pitt units had been contacted by Human Resources. "We're not talking to individual staff members, but when the plan goes into effect, individuals can have input within their units," Burdsall said.

Administrators are being asked to look at how staff in their units are classified under the plan and at the newly created job families.

In creating job families, Human Resources evaluated and then linked positions across University units using the following categories: contact level (interaction of a staff member within and outside the University); level of authority in a department's financial and budget operations; level of education and experience required; typical activities and duties; working title; organizational impact of the job within a unit; amount of problem-solving necessary, and level of supervision required.

There are expected to be 22 job families, Burdsall said.

Jim Edgerton, assistant vice chancellor for compensation and benefits, said the plan will be staff-friendly.

"Staff will be able to see where they are and know what skills they'll need to advance their careers much more clearly. With the job families, which are logical job progressions, a staff member can look up in the department at the 'job tree' or across the University to other units that have an opening in their particular progression," Edgerton said.

According to Edgerton, Human Resources studied corporations, universities and other institutions in southwestern Pennsylvania to see how Pitt's system could be improved.

"We found in our market research that most other places had a much more streamlined system," he said.

Human Resources will give written guidelines to administrators to help them create new positions and more equitably assign work responsibilities within their units. "These aren't really new guidelines. They've been unwritten guidelines," Frisch said. "But, now we'll have consistency and a place for [administrators] to go that describes the right procedures."

Edgerton said his office gets 30-40 requests each month to reclassify jobs. He predicted the new system will reduce that number.

Human Resources also will be better positioned to evaluate applicants from outside the University and to assign pay ranges (salary plus benefits) for new positions based on the market for comparable jobs, Frisch said.

"One of the problems with the current classification system is that some working titles do not tell you much about the job," Frisch said. "Also, it's hard to benchmark staff at this University when we have everything from sheepherders [in the Central Animal Facility] to glassblowers. This plan will make things more manageable," he said.

According to Human Resources, Pitt's annual staff turnover rate is about 28 percent. That includes positions opened up by staff who transfer to other jobs within the University. Transferring staff fill about one in four staff jobs here. "The 28 percent has been coming down, and we hope by giving staff a clearer picture of potential career advancement, our retention rate will improve," Frisch said.

A factor in the turnover rate is the number of employees, mostly research staff, who come to Pitt on limited grants. "As it is now, when the grant expires, they just leave," Frisch said. Human Resources is working on ways to place such staff in comparable jobs here, he added.

Frisch said 51 percent of new Pitt employees are hired at the mid-point of the salary range or higher — whereas, the University's policy is to advertise jobs at the minimum to mid-point of salary ranges.

Pitt is reconsidering that policy, Frisch said. While the policy is intended to keep applicants from pressing for the highest possible salaries, it also scares away applicants who figure they can't afford to work here for such low pay, he said.

"It really is a departmental budget function, too," Frisch said. "Departments have to fill open positions within the structure of their budget. They have to consider established staff members."

–Peter Hart and Bruce Steele

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