Last Updated on February 24, 2022
Snow is coming. Snow is coming, but a snow plow driver shortage could leave people stuck this winter.
Every year snow and ice cover many roads and highways. Communities rely on snow plows and salt trucks to minimize the effect these elements have on driving conditions. However, this year, a driver shortage in the northeast and midwest will mean roads and highways will have more snow and ice compared to previous years.
The snow plow and salt truck driver shortage is part of an overall truck driver shortage in the US. The trucking industry for decades hasn’t been able to present itself to young people as a viable career option. Retirement rates exceed replacement rates, and now there is a truck driver shortage.
The problem was exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, which scared off workers. Then government incentives kept workers at home longer than they needed to be. Now, sectors within trucking that provide the least benefits to drivers are feeling the greatest effects of the shortage.
Six states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oregon, Missouri, and Colorado) are each looking to hire more than 100 people for snow removal operations.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is reporting a shortage of snow plow operators by about 18 percent. At the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), applications for snow plow truck drivers are down by 50 percent in some parts of the state compared to previous years. The Department of Public Works in the City of Milwaukee too has expressed difficulty in finding new personeel. Their circumstances result from a nationwide labor shortage combined with strong competition for workers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
The administrator of the Transportation Systems Management Operations division at the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) reacted to the news. He stated that he hasn’t seen a snow plow truck driver shortage this severe in more than 30 years.
If the driver shortage continues, roads and highways will take longer to clear, which will stifle personal and economic activity, as well as emergency services.
Private versus public drivers
ODOT has a goal of clearing primary roads within two hours after a snow event (snowfall or snowstorm) ends. Their goal includes clearing the secondary routes within four hours. The organization claims they succeed in meeting that goal 95 percent of the time. Though they also stated that meeting this goal may prove more challenging in the coming season. Adding to their staffing troubles is the issue of money.
Truck drivers in snow and ice management often work for local governments. The pay isn’t as good compared to working for private truck companies.
The City of Albany, New York, which is facing a shortage of 24 truck drivers this winter season, pays their drivers about $23.60 per hour. MDOT snow plow wages range from $20-$26 an hour for eight-hour shifts. They offer up to four hours of overtime. All in all, seasoned drivers take home more than $100,000 annually.
At job finding portal indeed.com, the City of Sussex, Wisconsin, is advertising positions for snow plow/salt truck drivers with wages of $22-$30/hour. And the City of Anchorage, Arkansas, is advertising wages of $25-$30/hour for the same position.
Among these ads are ones from private companies with wages posted at $75/hour and $10,000 hiring bonuses. That’s a big difference from the government agencies.
MDOT has said that competing with private companies is challenging, because the department has pre-set salaries.
Tough working conditions
Several other conditions make working for the government as a snow plow or salt truck driver unattractive. The job is seasonal, the schedule is dictated by weather, and the work is performed in harsh conditions. Drivers often have to get up hours ahead of everyone else, and there is greater risk of an accident and injury compared to other truck driving professions.
Not knowing your work schedule makes planning for your personal life difficult. And not knowing how many hours you’re going to work next week, or next month, makes planning finances a concern.
Snow plow drivers have these to consider in addition to what’s standard for all truckers. Drivers need to have a CDL, complete a criminal background check, a pre-employment physical, a vision test, and a drug and alcohol screening.
In search of a more effective recruitment strategy
In order to attract more drivers, governments are making some effort. Some have been advertising through and increasing wages. Officials in Milwaukee are raising the hourly wage by $2.59 in hopes of attracting more drivers. MDOT is prepared to pay for the CDL training of newly hired drivers.
The New York State Department of Transportation posted ads on their Facebook page. They included tag lines like “Drive with us” and “There’s no business like snow business.” Several people commented on the low pay with one person saying, “Pay sucks, retirement is terrible, and you have to be available to be called in with no excuses.”
Other solutions to the snow plow driver shortage
The driver shortage not only impacts the number of candidates for snow plow and ice truck drivers, but also their quality. Departments in charge of snow removal will hire drivers who aren’t as dedicated to quality or as committed to safety, because a less-than-optimal driver is usually better than no driver.
Some departments expect to move some of their staff who operate trucks or other heavy machinery from their current duties to snow removal. If not, they could be overwhelmed in the aftermath of a snow event.
Other departments are expecting neighboring counties to lend a hand when they need more drivers. However, if a snow event is severe enough to affect several adjacent counties, then this plan may not be achievable.
Private sector steps in
With a variety of factors playing into the snow plow driver shortage, departments are looking more and more to the private sector for help filling in the gaps.
During severe weather events, Albany’s Department of General Services recruits local contractors. This season, they anticipate private businesses will clear 40 percent of Albany’s snow.
Paying private companies instead of staff will result in higher snow removal costs, since private companies are paying their drivers more than double what local governments do. And, the cost of contracting a private company includes more than the driver’s wage. The contract will also include costs for the company’s overhead and profit margin.
Precipitation in the Northeast US is expected to be the same as last year, but temperatures will be colder. This means more snow will fall than rain. In some areas, snowfall has started earlier and will end later than previous years.
Finding an end to the snow plow driver shortage
With more snow on the way, governments and individuals will have to make contingency plans if there aren’t enough snow plow operators. The situation is not all bad, however. If you’re an entrepreneur, now is a good time to kickstart your own snow removal company. Any successful business satisfies a need in the community.
Without a doubt, communities nationwide will be in need once the snow hits and there aren’t enough moving vehicles at play. You could be the solution. After getting set up with the right equipment, snow plows, salt spreaders, trucks, and more, you can bring your company into action. Start your quest for the right snow equipment with Municibid.