Photo: Wanted to drive for the DPW?
Once, it was nearly every child’s dream job was to drive a big truck including a snow plow.
Today, Belmont and about every city and town across the country can’t find someone/anyone to drive a municipal truck. In fact, the Belmont DPW can’t get people to join the department, period.
The DPW is desperate to find someone, anyone, to drive its large trucks equipped to clear snow off the roadways this winter.
“We’ve been posting the jobs for a while but we are just getting candidates,” said DPW Director Jay Marcotte to the Belmont Select Board on Monday, Nov. 21.
Last year, when the DPW was down five workers, during both of the heavy snowstorms which required every town department and all the town’s contractors on the streets clearing snow, the DPW “had two trucks sitting in the garage … which means we have to hire more contractors and we pay a premium for those,” said Marcotte.
Currently, the town is seeking anyone – resident or nonresident – with a Commercial Driver’s License to apply.
“I want to avoid idle trucks at all costs,” Marcotte told the board.
But it’s not just drivers where the DPW is coming up short. As of mid-November, the department has ten open positions – two which were the result of cutbacks in last year’s the town budget – which the town just cannot seem to fill.
“Just a few years ago, you’d have a line out the door with applicants. It was considered a way to get your foot into working for the DPW,” said Marcotte after the meeting.
“We though about changing our prevailing wage but I don’t even think that would bring any additional applicants,” Town Administrator Patrice Garvin told the Belmontonian.
Garvin said Belmont is not the only town with a workers shortage. Head over to the Massachusetts Municipal Association jobs site and the list of open positions – for both professional staff and salaried workers – in city and town government is seemingly endless. Marcotte said he has talked to his fellow DPW directors and they are facing the same shortage.
What Belmont is facing is happening across the country: The US has, as the Economist reported, an unemployment problem. Not what we normally associate as too many unemployed; rather there’s not enough people out of work. As taught in Econ 101 (almost certainly using the text book Economics co-authored by Belmont resident Paul Samuelson), when there are too few workers in the market, the demand for them increases and those workers have their choice of who they work for.
Significant factors in this phenomenon was the Covid-19 pandemic that saw many older workers retire, younger people seek entrepreneurial careers and, in Massachusetts, a dip in the population level as the state suffered one of the highest rates of outmigration – 6th largest in the US – in 2020.
The results can be seen throughout the state: popular shops such as Starbucks and local restaurants are closing due to staffing issues, a lack of child care workers limits the number of children a site can take in, and workers are asked to add extra shifts due to the lack of employees.
Marcotte said the real world implications for Belmont of this national trend is residents will see delays in response times for service or less frequent action, while needed infrastructure repairs will be pushed to the side.
“They will feel the affects if we can’t find workers not just during the snow season but as we head into the spring,” said Marcotte.