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State Offers Incentives To Help Solve Plow Driver Shortage

Steve Zind
To fill their 40 unfilled plow truck driver openings, VTrans is offering an $1,000 hiring incentive to those with commerical driver's license, and $500 to those without their CDL.

The MOB has openings. In this case, MOB stands for the Maintenance and Operations Bureau at the Vermont Agency of Transportation – and the openings are for state plow truck drivers.

The state is facing a serious shortage of maintenance works who drive the trucks.

Normally, there are approximately 20 openings, but this year the number of unfilled jobs has jumped to 40. That's almost 10 percent of the state’s plow truck drivers.

Most of the increase is due to people taking advantage of retirement incentives offered by the state to reduce the overall size of the workforce.

Scott Rogers, director of Maintenance and Operations at VTrans, says many of the open positions are near the state’s population centers and are harder to fill because of competition with private contractors and larger municipal highway departments.

Rogers says private sector truck driving jobs typically pay better than the $14/hour starting pay the state offers. Although the pay difference is offset by more generous state benefits, Rogers says that doesn’t resonate with a lot of potential employees.

“Our experience lately has been that a lot of younger people who are entering the workforce aren’t really thinking, ‘this is a great thing for me because in the next 30 years I could retire.’" Rogers says. "They’re thinking, 'what’s my next paycheck going to be?'"

In order to fill the large number of openings, the state is sweetening the pot. For the first time, it is offering $1,000 hiring incentives to people with a commercial driver’s license (CDL). For those without CDL's, the state is offering a $500 bonus and help with the training necessary to receive the license.

In case the jobs can’t be filled, Rogers says VTrans has put out a call for any employees elsewhere in the agency who have commercial driver’s licenses. About 12 people responded. 

Rogers says current drivers could also put in even more overtime, but drivers need downtime and he’s worried they’ll be stretched too thin during a long storm.  

Jerold Kinney, supervisor of the state highway maintenance garage in Randolph says when a winter storm hits, drivers have to work long hours regardless of holidays and weekends. Some shifts last winter lasted more than 24 hours.

Normally, there are roughly 20 openings. This year, the number of unfilled jobs has jumped to 40, almost 10 percent of the state's plow truck drivers.

Kinney says the reward is in working together to get the job done.

“I have a great group of people here,” he says. “We’re family. It’s a camaraderie that I can’t explain to somebody, but to do the work you’ve really got to love it.”

Kinney says for plow drivers the first winter is the test. If a new driver can survive – it’ll get easier after that.

Of the state’s 400-450 maintenance workers who drive snow plows, eight are women.

The Agency of Transportation isn’t alone in its struggle to find drivers.

According to Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, his members are also finding it difficult to find qualified drivers.

Cota says the jobs can pay $25/hour, but the rules that apply to drivers transporting hazardous materials like fuel oil have become more stringent in recent years, winnowing the field of applicants.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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