With wages comparable to Wendy’s, CDOT struggles to fill 130 openings across Western Slope
The Colorado Department of Transportation is short 130 employees on the Western Slope, leaving a crucial region of the state down about 22% of its staff.
On Tuesday, Aug. 30, CDOT officials told Routt County commissioners the agency has been slow to respond to the current job market, and they are losing out on candidates to fast food chains that offer better wages.
“We’re in direct competition with Wendy’s as far as the hourly wage goes,” said Spencer Dickey, deputy superintendent of CDOT’s Maintenance Section 6, which includes Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Grand counties.
In Craig, where the Wendy’s on Victory Way is advertising eight open positions, CDOT’s barn is short 43% of its staff.
Across the state, CDOT is short 20% or more maintenance staff in 25 of Colorado’s 64 counties, including a 36% vacancy rate in Grand Junction and 45% in Denver.
Some key maintenance barns along I-70 from Wolcott to the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel are missing more than half of their staff. The barn in Avon is working with a 70% reduction in staff, according to materials shared by CDOT on Tuesday.
“We’re struggling getting applicants even,” said Jason Smith, CDOT Region 3 transportation director. “Some of our positions are open continuously.”
The 130 vacancies are in CDOT’s third region, which is a 15-county area that includes much of the Western Slope north of the San Luis Valley. This area includes more than 5,000 miles of state highway, 13 mountain passes and I-70 from the tunnels to the Utah border.
About 30 of the openings are in CDOT’s engineering sector and another 100 in maintenance, Smith said. He said low wages and housing affordability are two big issues the agency is working to overcome.
While CDOT is looking at increasing wages and finding cheaper housing options for employees — potentially even building some of its own — Smith said the agency has lagged in its response to hiring woes.
“Especially in these resort areas, the costs are not going to go down,” Smith said. “In some of these places, like in Silverthorne, we’re finding out the average cost of rent per month is pretty much more than we already pay in salary.”
Dickey said a starting plow truck driver and most entry-level positions for CDOT would make just under $3,400 a month, which translates to $19.37 an hour. Wendy’s is advertising entry-level positions on the Western Slope as high as $20 an hour.
To get through the shortages, Region 3 has been borrowing from other regions with crews based in Denver and Greeley helping maintain roads.
Dickey also said various areas share maintenance crews, and at times, they will push plows east to chase a storm. He said the agency has had to get increasingly creative as the staffing situation has gotten worse.
One recruitment issue has been reaching younger applicants, who are often looking for set schedules, Dickey said. Many of CDOT’s vacancies require workers to run out and respond to weather events when they happen, and new employees often get assigned graveyard shifts.
“We do have a lot of trouble communicating with the younger applicant, attracting them or finding a way to really express all the opportunities that we have here,” Dickey said. “Being subject to whatever Mother Nature throws at us, yeah, it’s a hard sell at $19.37 an hour.”
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