How should Human Resources fit in your ARPA Plans?
Alicia Finley

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Healthy Workforce = Successful ARPA Projects.

One of the most overlooked components of the ARPA planning process is how workforce capacity is impacted by the projects and goals of your Tribe. Your workforce is crucial for the successful implementation of your projects and programs, and needs to be considered from the start. In this article, I will discuss how Human Resources should partner with departments and Program Directors/Managers to develop solid plans and financial projections in the project budget that ensure your projects are staffed by a robust and healthy workforce. 

Your workforce is crucial for the successful implementation of your projects and programs”

This is an Opportunity to Curb Low Employment

In today’s current hiring environment with the lack of available skills and competition for employees, HR plays an important role in supporting other departments and Program Directors/Managers to make informed decisions for their financial projections and budget planning. Your HR department has the opportunity to use the ARPA funds to navigate the complex hiring trends we are seeing and ensure that your projects don’t run into workforce complications before it’s too late.

ARPA Benefits for Your Payroll

Some APRA funds can be earmarked specifically for payroll. Here are four ways you can use these monies to directly benefit and grow your workforce. 

  • Increase Staff Size – Tribal Governments can increase employees numbers up to 7.5% above their pre-pandemic staffing levels
  • Reward Faithfulness – Funding for employees who had pay reductions or furloughs
  • Avoid Layoffs – Maintain current compensation levels to avoid layoffs
  • Provide Incentives – Worker retention incentives to employees, less than 25% of base pay or 10% of group or category of employee’s pay

Five Human Resource Goals for ARPA

We’ve identified five questions HR should be asking during ARPA planning and explain in more depth why they are so important:

1. Round Out Your HR Department

We understand that many HR departments are already short-staffed and are operating at capacity. As part of the planning process, HR needs to look internally at their department to ensure that they have adequate staff for recruiting and onboarding additional positions, and that their workflows and processes are updated to maximize efficiencies in their collaboration with the Program Directors/Managers.

2. Budget for New Hires & Positions 

With each project, HR should consider what additional positions and skills will be needed to carry out the implementation and create sustainability in the future. Begin by supporting the most critical projects in an efficient and thoughtful way. Some positions that should be considered are:

  • Grant Management
  • Project Management
  • Additional HR
  • Information Technology (IT)
  • Finance Staff

Consider if these will all be full-time positions, or is there a possibility for part-time or even contracted positions? While performing this analysis, it will be necessary to determine where funding for payroll will come from after the ARPA projects have been implemented. It is, therefore, very important that this step is part of the planning and budgeting process and that HR is working closely with each department to build these costs into the project budget.

3. Offer Competitive Pay & Benefits

Assess your compensation packages and whether they are up-to-date to recruit qualified employees for the new positions identified in your critical projects. Consider also the wages of current staff and steps needed to avoid layoffs. If this has not been done it can lead to “pay compression”. This is when wage differences between supervisors/managers or long-tenured employees aren’t very large compared to new hires or employees they oversee. Pay compression can result in employees feeling undervalued and could result in unexpected turnover.

In many communities, the starting wage is $18-22/hour, which makes it very difficult for Tribes to compete with, especially where grants are concerned, as they often have limits. We recommend looking at a competitive starting wage, coupled with a good benefit offering, and employee recognition to round out the compensation package. This looks very different from offering the market rate of $18-22/hour, as it is sustainable over time and more competitive in the long run; we foresee many of these employers having to lay off high-paid employees once the market levels off.

Pay compression can result in employees feeling undervalued and could result in unexpected turnover.”

4. Collaborate & Support Other Departments

Finally, it will be very important for HR and Finance to collaborate every step of the way to address managing compensation and benefits, staffing budget, as well as addressing pay adjustments due to pay compression as part of the annual planning and budgeting process.

By considering all of the above impacts and completing assessments to address the considerations, including them in your overall plan will allow for a more comprehensive budget and maximized use of your Tribe’s ARPA funds and available grant funding, while ensuring that the implementation of projects is successful and doesn’t drain your current staff resources.

5. Begin Recruitment Early

Start the recruitment process early to avoid “desperate hires” that don’t fit the job. Schedule enough time to ensure that your Tribe is hiring the right person for the right job and that they possess the skill set needed to perform the duties of the job. This is a unique time where Tribes can be more thoughtful about their hiring practices and staffing levels.

A unique time where Tribes can be more thoughtful about their hiring practices”

Plan Well Now— Benefit for Years.

If your HR leadership is able to apply the above principles and considerations early in your ARPA planning process, you will be well on your way to a workforce that doesn’t feel sapped and straining to keep up with growth. Planning well now with your Council and Tribal departments could potentially reap huge benefits for many years to come.