Help Wanted: Burlington Public Works needs workers
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Labor shortages have led to a bumpy road for Burlington’s Public Works Department. Officials say If they don’t find more help soon, it could directly impact their ability to deliver plowing and other services.
As part of our ongoing series on high-demand jobs, our Kayla Martin scraped up some answers.
“I’ve always said plowing is pretty easy,” explained Lee Perry, the maintenance division director for the Burlington Public Works Department. “You got a nice truck to drive around in, you’ve got heat, stop to get a coffee, take a break.”
Perry says he has been doing this kind of work since he was 15. He’s been working on the Burlington crew for 15 years and says there are pros and cons to the job. “It is a long night, stressful dealing with traffic on the roads. We drive in the absolute worse conditions there are, that can be stressful,” Perry said. On the positive side, he says It’s a great place to work to raise a family. “The benefits with the city are great -- stability for my family.”
But DPW is not immune from the labor shortages many sectors have experienced. “Spell of not having any applicants apply to open positions, whereas before it would be no problem to get four to five applicants per position,” Perry said.
They’re posting ads on social media, the city’s website, and radio but can’t scoop anyone up. Perry says they currently have 21 vacant positions and that as an organization of 125, that has a significant impact.
They normally have four recyclers that that cover three routes. But with two of those positions unfilled, they’re half-staffed. “Have to backfill with a street maintenance worker to keep recycling going,” Perry said. But he says that creates a trickle-down effect that means some plowing of streets and sidewalks or other work is delayed. “We then have activities within street maintenance that do not get done,” he said.
And this isn’t a problem just for the city of Burlington, it’s impacting municipalities across Vermont. “I’ve been seeing a lot of municipalities with job postings for similar positions that we have, whether it’s a road foreman, a mechanic, or a street maintenance type worker,” Perry said.
He says a $2,000 sign-on bonus and other incentives don’t appear to help. They’re looking to fill positions from crossing guards, to recycling drivers, and street maintenance. Some of the positions require a CDL license but they are also willing to train the right candidates. “You have 90 days to obtain a Class B CDL. It’s a minimum we need here to drive our trucks in the city of Burlington,” Perry said. “We have hired them as seasonals, trained them on trucks, they get their CDL permit, they take their test, they get their CDL and they’ve moved up through the ranks. We usually hire them in recycling, it’s kind of like our foot in the door at the city.”
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