CDOT begins hiring for winter positions, hoping to combat snowplow driver shortage | VailDaily.com

CDOT begins hiring for winter positions, hoping to combat snowplow driver shortage

Sawyer D'Argonne
Summit Daily News

The Colorado Department of Transportation has launched a new effort to recruit winter maintenance personnel as the weather begins to chill. But as state officials witnessed last year, finding enough workers to meet the need can be difficult.

Last winter, CDOT was forced to get creative with their employees due to a lack of snowplow drivers in the state — staffing only about 750 of 850 drivers the department would like to maintain operations. This year, officials fear a driver shortage could again become an issue.

“It’s the same situation we were in last year,” said Bob Wilson, a spokesperson for CDOT. “The state’s unemployment rate is extremely low. The requirement is in place that somebody has to have a commercial driver’s license, and it’s one of those things where there are not millions of people with that accreditation already in place. So we are still lacking in several locations where they don’t have plow drivers in place. That’s why the call has gone out once again, and probably will a couple more times before we get to the end of the year.”

Wilson said CDOT is hoping to hire on about 100 additional employees to both permanent and temporary positions throughout the winter. Wilson noted that plow drivers fill kind of a utility position with the department, plowing on snowy days and working to fix guardrails or filling potholes when the weather is nice.

But if the department can’t find enough new employees by the time snow starts to fall — especially if this winter resembles the last — it could mean delays in plowing services in areas around the state. Though, with a major thoroughfare running across the state, residents living along the Interstate 70 Corridor may not have to worry too much.

“The biggest problem it creates is we can’t provide the same amount of coverage that we normally could at full employment,” said Wilson. “I don’t mean that roads will go unplowed. But it requires more of a prioritization of I-70 or I-25. … I-70 is always going to be the priority because it’s not just a way to get between Dillon and Frisco, it’s also a way for a cross-country truck driver to get from Los Angeles to Chicago. Highway 9 is a priority too, because it’s the primary north-south route for people to get from Breckenridge to Grand County. … We just don’t have the amount of personnel we’d ideally have to provide coverage elsewhere as soon as we’d like.”

As Wilson mentioned earlier, the issue largely stems from a shortage of drivers with commercial driver’s licenses, along with a low unemployment rate throughout the state. Colorado currently only has a 2.8% unemployment rate, tied for the sixth lowest in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And with government and commercial entities all competing for individuals with commercial licenses, the competition can make it difficult to find qualified employees.

“Right now because of the tight job market we’re experiencing, it’s a problem for school districts and other agencies that require drivers. We had this same issue with Bustang, and so do other commercial companies that require drivers. It’s something that cuts across various industries, and it’s not just a CDOT problem. It’s a problem for anybody that requires drivers who need CDLs in place.”

Last year the department began offering new incentives to try and pull drivers into plow positions, and Wilson said those efforts are returning this year as the department continues to combat the issue.

Among the incentives are raising wages for temporary employees to $23 an hour (the department raised wages from $19 to $22 an hour last year). Additionally, the department is offering to bring back retired CDOT maintenance personnel at $25 an hour or their hourly wage at retirement, whichever is higher. Certain positions are also eligible for housing stipends.

The department is also expanding the search area for employees. CDOT typically only allows in-state employees, or in certain cases employees hired from within 30 miles of Colorado’s borders. Though this year CDOT received a residency waiver from the Department of Personnel and Administration that allows employees to be hired from anywhere around the country.

It remains to be seen if the incentives will materialize into new drivers.

“It’s hard to say,” said Wilson. “We don’t know at this point. We’re still in wait and see mode.”

Hiring is currently underway to fill positions throughout the state, including in the I-70 Mountain Corridor. Interested individuals can apply at bit.ly/TeamCDOT.

“Our maintenance personnel have a lot of pride, not only for the jobs they do, but also for the equipment they use, the roads they patrol, the communities they serve and the teamwork that’s required to make sure our highways are safe for the traveling public,” said Kyle Lester, director of CDOT’s Division of Maintenance. “If that’s something you’d like to be a part of, along with the possibility of a long-term career, we’d like to hear from you.”