Whatcom County Public Works is dealing with a significant staffing shortage - specifically a shortage of employees who are licensed, qualified and experienced operating snow plows.
Heavy equipment like snow plows require a Commercial Driver's License and minimum training hours to operate on public roadways. Normally the department would have 52 trained CDL drivers for emergency work - including snow plow operations. Right now there are only 27 employees with sufficient training and licenses. The combination of experienced workers retiring, the booming construction economy placing a premium on equipment operator jobs, and the Covid-19 pandemic limiting CDL training opportunities are the main factors behind this shortage.
We are doing everything we can do to prepare, hire, and train our workforce as fast as we safely can. Over the past 18 months, we hired more than a dozen new employees, 9 of whom are currently going through the CDL training process. We are also working to fill 8 vacancies right now. In a non-pandemic year, It takes an average of 6-12 months for someone to get a CDL license. Even after someone gets a CDL, we don’t just put them in a snow plow on a public road without any practice. We make sure new drivers have both the right license and experience level before operating on public roadways. The safety of our employees and the driving public must always be our highest priority.
We are asking all Whatcom County residents to prepare and make contingencies in case the department is unable to provide snow plowing at the same service levels as in previous years. A lack of operators means there will be fewer plows and other equipment on the roads during extended snow storms. It will likely take longer for crews to get to secondary roads.
How You Can Prepare for Winter Snow and Ice Storms:
Keep up with weather forecasts and know when snow and ice is expected to impact our area.
Prepare in advance. Have sufficient staples like groceries and medication to stay at home for multiple days in a row.
Stay home if you can during and immediately after a winter storm.
If you must travel, be prepared to drive on roads that have not been plowed, or may not have been plowed recently.
Have tire chains and know how to use them.
Get a vehicle winter maintenance checkup.
Carry a basic winter survival kit in your vehicle.
More tips from WSDOT.
We understand that the present challenges to our operations may cause concern in your community. If you have questions or want to share your concerns with us, contact us here.
Thank you in advance for your support and cooperation as we move into the 2021-2022 winter storm season.