Why New York State is scrambling to hire more plow operators

NYS DOT has installed LED signs, as seen here on Route 11 outside of Canton, along highways across the state in search of plow drivers. Photo: Lisa Lazenby

Here’s a statistic that will impress you: the number of kilometers snowplows travel each time there is a snowfall in the north of the country.

“If you had to bundle up all the miles of track,” said State Department of Transportation spokesman Sean Hennessey, “you could basically drive from Watertown to Denver, Colo. And come back whenever the snow fell. flies in the north of the country.

That means a lot of snow plow operators – hundreds in this region alone. And right now there is a nationwide shortage.

The New York DOT has placed large LED signs across the state lsearch for plow operators.

DOT’s Sean Hennessey explains why the state needs more plow operators

Hennessey spoke to David Sommerstein about the demanding job and why drivers are in high demand. Their conversation has been edited for clarity.

SEAN HENNESSEY: In the North Country area we have a lake effect, maybe in Adams [in Jefferson County], or you’re talking about high capacity winds on the St. Lawrence River, you know, it can be a very diverse place to work as a snow plow operator.

So, yes, there are shortages in the industry. But luckily, New York State DOT, we have about 3,300 operators and supervisors on staff right now. At this point, what we’re doing is filling in the gaps where people have retired after serving maybe 30 years with for the New York State DOT.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN: I see these signs all over the place saying, “Hey, plow for New York State.” So what is going on?

HENNESSE: If you divide the area into different counties, there are pockets here and there. Needed most, I would say, if I had to single out one location, I would probably say Franklin and Clinton counties have the greatest need for us, in terms of numbers.

But as I mentioned, we have a substantial workforce here in the North Country. We have everything we need, in terms of equipment, people and coaches, as the season approaches. We are just trying to line our pockets when it comes to retirement.

SOMMERSTEIN: Yeah. So I can hear you reassuring the public by saying, ‘hey, don’t worry, you’re going to clear your roads.’ But at the same time, what are the challenges of replacing retirees?

HENNESSE: More and more people are buying from sites like Amazon, eBay or things of that nature, and each of those packages has to be delivered by a driver. And virtually every one of these drivers must have a CDL [commercial driver’s license].

So in the modern age we live in, having a CDL is a very popular commodity right now. So anyone who’s listening and maybe thinking about changing careers or finding a different career path, this is really a great career to take, especially with New York State DOT.

SOMMERSTEIN: We’ve heard a lot about a labor shortage, it’s not just about DOT plow operators, but all industries. People are begging for workers and finding it difficult to fill jobs. How much of a problem is this in this situation?

HENNESSE: Well, you know we’re kinda blessed. When people have CDL, they know they’re going to work. It is a little different from other professions that may exist. There are other employment opportunities. If anyone is taking the time to get their Class A or Class B CDL, these are hot items.

So these are the people who have done their homework, passed the exam, and are certified as a driver. So we don’t have the impacts that other industries can feel.

But hey, I’m telling you anyway, overall CDL drivers are a very popular commodity. So yes, it becomes a little more difficult to find pilots. But, given the salary we have and the benefits, I think it gives us a bit of a head start when other industries may not have that opportunity.

SOMMERSTEIN: It is probably a very stressful job. You have to work at night or early in the morning whenever snow or ice falls. There are mountain passes in the Adirondacks. It must be a very difficult job for people to get involved.

HENNESSE: It is a very trying position. The people who do this kind of work, be it for a city, town or state, they take these jobs very seriously. These roads they are on is almost like a child to them. They take incredible care when they are there. So you raised a good point.

And if I could just tell the audience, if you don’t mind that while I have time, give our people over there a little distance, give them a little space. We’ve all heard ‘don’t clutter the plow’. It’s a very important thing for our drivers, just to be wary of them and give them the respect they deserve.

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