The civil service exam. The problem that won’t go away?

When I ran for Mayor back in 1993, the City of Dayton was trying to get itself sued, so that it could hire more minorities into the public safety department. I suggested instead of the “consent decree”- we should implement a physical fitness standard for current employees– to thin the ranks and make more job openings. I did not make friends with the public service unions.

All these years later, and we’re still failing to hire minorities, and still getting sued- and it’s costing us real money ($950K for the last Department of Justice compromise). That’s money that isn’t going to go for real public safety.

Then we read that the tests weren’t validated:

The Dayton police and fire civil service exams subject of a federal lawsuit were never validated by the city’s Civil Service Board.

The revelation by City Manager Rashad Young comes after a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit claimed the testing and hiring practices for police and fire positions had a “disparate impact” on black applicants….

Validation is necessary to prove effectiveness of the exam questions, related to the necessary requirements of the job.

Dr. Rick Jacobs, professor of psychology at Penn State University and an expert in job performance and hiring practices, said the tests not being validated is “interesting” considering it is one of the “most important” steps in the process.

via Police, fire exams never validated by board.

This battle has been going on for at least 20 years without a change. Sort of like the State Supreme Courts ruling on school funding inequities. Doesn’t it make you wonder just a bit?

Hiring is an art form- I can tell you that from doing my share of it. I can also tell you that most small business owners struggle with it. I have a friend who swears by pre-employment testing- where they test your personality, to try to find if you fit a profile that is deemed a good fit for the job. It makes hiring an expensive process – and even though it’s been wrong more than right- my friend still spends the money.

My process has changed over the years. I used to hire based purely on talent. Looking at a portfolio was the number one test. Now, I hire on attitude more than aptitude. I find that keeping a good work atmosphere much more valuable than a stellar portfolio. I find people show more talent when happy, and can be coached better if they have the right attitude.

Either way, no hiring process is perfect. Even the military that has a huge pool of applicants, and a long track record to measure test to actual performance, doesn’t get it 100% right in its hiring.

So, my question is: Is the civil service test really a valid way to choose our candidates? We’ve had some wildly bad cops and firemen who have passed the test and made it through the academies, as well as a lot of really great ones. What we haven’t had is any success at hiring minorities.

Even if the test proved not to have cultural bias, after trying to solve the problem for 20 years and still failing, it’s got to be more than just the test at issue here.

I’d like to hear from members of Dayton’s public safety forces on what they think we can do to solve this issue, without having to wait for the DOJ to “solve” our problem for us?

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