VINTON–Donna Collins has been promoted from Human Resources Specialist to Human Resources Director for the Town of Vinton.
“Ms. Collins began working for the town as the HR Specialist a year ago and reported to the Assistant Town Manager, Ryan Spitzer,” said Town Manager Chris Lawrence. “With the resignation of Ryan, we are shifting all HR duties to Donna. She has truly established herself as a strong HR professional within our organization and has been a strong asset serving all our staff. In her new role, she will take on the overall responsibility for the HR policies and development of programs to help strengthen our employees training, retention, and recognition.”
Collins was hired by the town last summer after working with Freight Car of America as their HR Manager and previously for Hanover Direct in HR and AtWork Personnel in placement. Freight Car of America has about 390 employees; AtWork is a placement service often dealing with temporary employment positions.
Collins said she applied for the HR Specialist job in Vinton because she liked the feel of a small town. She felt immediately “comfortable and at home” when she interviewed and “would have felt disappointed” if she didn’t get the position here. This is her first time working in the public sector, rather than the private.
Collins grew up in Pittsburgh and then moved to Tennessee where she also worked in the human resources field. She earned her degree in human resources from Devry University. Collins has one son who is 17 and attends William Fleming High School.
She had no childhood dreams of becoming a human resources director, but she came to realize when she was working as a teacher at a childcare center that she enjoyed facilitating talks between parents and the childcare personnel—that she “genuinely liked helping people.” Human Resources gave her that opportunity.
While people often think of the role of an HR Director as “hiring and firing” that is not the main focus in Vinton. The town has approximately 85 employees; their HR goal is defined as not just attracting “a talented and innovative staff’ but supporting the staff the town employs.
Her duties with the Town of Vinton are diversified. She works with both employees and management on a daily basis and strives to do that ethically and legally, not favoring one side over the other, she said.
Collins evaluates, develops, and implements policy. She is in charge of benefits administration. She deals with insurance claims. She tries to reach out to the town’s workforce to make sure they have what they need.
She does deal with hiring new employees by posting jobs, handling preliminary interviews herself, and then meeting with the applicant and department heads. She checks references and conducts background checks for employees other than police department hires who go through a more stringent process.
Collins says that recruiting a good employee starts with getting the applicant to be comfortable and open up during the first interview so that their work ethic and work patterns can be ascertained. She considers whether they seem to have prepared for the interview and have acquired knowledge of the town. Nowadays the value and reliability of references can sometimes be of limited value in the interview process.
She arranges for health and drug screenings, and then arranges training and orientation sessions once an employee is hired.
She conducts some trainings herself, facilitates other trainers or webinars, or attends trainings to return and disseminate information to town employees. Recent trainings have been on workplace safety, national disasters, stormwater management, and how to best deliver customer service.
When she first took the position with the town, she surveyed employees and departments to determine what trainings they felt they needed.
Collins is currently in the process of reviewing the town’s employee handbook and the town’s policies as relates to their employees. Her plan, with council’s approval, is to make the guidelines not only fair, but less ambiguous and also comparable to other nearby localities.
She hopes to implement policies which will positively impact employee retention within the constraints of small town opportunities and compensation. Her philosophy is that turnover is lower when an employer can match salary and benefits comparable to surrounding localities, but can also meet the need for employees to feel valuable and appreciated.
Vinton currently recognizes employees with traditional birthday and anniversary greetings, but they also schedule special appreciation events on holidays and during national events such as Public Works and Public Safety employee weeks. Recently they recognized employees who are military veterans on Veterans Day. They honor years of service to the town, and going “Above and Beyond” the call of duty. The police department names an Officer of the Month and other departments are exploring similar recognitions.
Collins describes her typical day as “non-stop.” She has an Open Door policy, always welcoming employees to drop by to ask questions, express concerns, or “just vent.” It’s important for someone in her position to be approachable, she said.
Collins says that in a small community she is able to offer the personal touch which is not always possible in larger municipalities.
What she has discovered in her year on the job in Vinton is that the town and its employees “go out of their way to work hard and support each other and the community.”