“We Deal with it Because We Have to.” WYDOT talks Staffing Shortages and Workarounds.
"Certainly we have been dealing with staffing shortages for a while. They have been worse this year ."
Luke Reiner, the director of Wyoming Department of Transportation, told K2Radio News that his vision for 2023 is filling those vacancies so they can complete their mission fully.
"We are working very hard in many facets to retain who we have and recruit more, " said Reiner.
They do have openings in Casper.
"We're no different than anybody who's competing with available force pool."
How is WYDOT dealing with these deficiencies?
Reiner said it's all about prioritizing.
Right now, snow is the high-priority task.
Reiner said good meteorology has helped them better predict where forces and equipment will most be needed, allowing them to move across the state with the storms.
They know the areas with the most staffing shortages, too, so keep an eye on weather patterns to send help to areas most in need when they can.
But if it's a statewide event they can't do that. In that case, there's a slower response.
"We always try to get out and plow the roads to make sure school buses can go.
Our purpose in life is to support the economy of our state, to connect communities, and make our lives better for all residents.
We think making sure your kids can get to school is key."
Another way they've worked around the shortages is by asking previous WYDOT maintainers (in this case snow plow drivers) to volunteer. They've called and said:
"Hey listen, we really ask you to volunteer to help if you can."
Reiner said he's called supervisors and explained that it's a priority mission to push the snow in the winter, so depending on what their employees are doing, it might be critical for them to go out and do that so that everyone can go to work.
"You have to look at how to mitigate it so the state is affected as minimally as possible."
"We're dealing with it, but what you want is a full staff. We have jobs for everybody. To perform our mission correctly it takes a full staff. We deal with it because we have to, and without a full staff, some of the mission can't be done."
There's a give and take in the business, said Reiner, and they try to do the right thing at the right time and use their assets to the best of their ability.
One example of the ways they're dealing with the problem of staffing is the summertime mowing.
In the winter, maintainers' big job is plowing the snow, but of course "there's other things--say somebody runs into a guard rail, we gotta fix those, cleaning signs so they're easier to read."
In the summer, maintainers mow the right-of-ways.
They do this for two reasons:
1. It helps keep wildlife away from the road.
2. It helps snow patrol in the winter by preventing the snow from stacking on top and piling (as grass acts like a windbreak).
In much of the state, they didn't have the workforce to mow all the way to the fence, and so were only able to make one or two passes along both sides of the road.
Reiner said it's not just a Wyoming problem. "Everywhere you go today you see a help wanted sign."
He belives part of the problem might boil down to non-competitive wages up until this summer, "which probably exacerbated where people wanted to go to work, and to some extent, retaining who we had."
He said WYDOT is very grateful for Governor Gordon and the Legislator's decision to increase the wages of WYDOT workers, which came into effect in July, 2022.
"There's talk of another round, which would be helpful."
The raise has allowed them to be more competitive, and they have seen a recent increase in employment.
"Where else can you get in your plow truck or your pursuit vehicle and look out and see a beautiful set of mountains and a heard of antelope, deer, or elk, and watch the wind softly blowing over the meadows, the sagebrush?" said Reiner of working for WYDOT.
It's a critical, operational mission that goes everyday, 24/7 all year. That's the job. It's rewarding when you can open a road and people can go.
"There's a whole myriad, a whole web of great men and women who are involved in that process."
All WYDOT job opportunities can be found at Neo Gov.