Midwest faces snowplow driver shortage but Minnesota prepared

"Everybody wants the drivers, and there’s not enough to go around."

Unsplash/nancyfordephoto

State and local governments in the Midwest may be unable to keep their roadways clear of snow this winter amid a worker shortage and supply chain disruptions.

Eleven states including several in the Midwest report a shortage of snowplow and salt-truck drivers as the official beginning of winter rapidly approaches. These states, and local governments like the city of Duluth, have scrambled to get the workers they need before snowfall begins in earnest.

Duluth, for example, started offering online applications and actively marketing the open positions in October. “As a municipality we’ve never had to do this,” Street Maintenance Operations Coordinator Geoff Vukelich told WDIO, who reported that Minnesota as a whole was facing a shortage in October.

Fortunately, the Minnesota Department of Transportation told Fox 9 that it now has 1,600 employees to drive its 800 snowplows. The agency also stocked up on road salt in the spring, according to Fox 9.

But other states aren’t so lucky. Michigan finds itself with fewer snow removal workers than it needs. This is a problem “not just for the traveling public, but it’s also for emergency services, the ambulances and police and fire and all that,” explained Mark Geib, administrator of the Transportation Systems Management Operations division at the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Geib said he hasn’t seen anything like the current situation during his three-decade career. He blames the driver shortage on competition from the private sector.

Ohio is in a similar situation.

“We’re competing with the warehouses. We’re competing with the school buses. Everybody wants the drivers, and there’s not enough to go around,” said Brooke Ebersole, a public information officer with the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Milwaukee recently increased wages in an effort to fill 53 open positions for snow removal workers.

As Ebersole indicated, public agencies are competing with private companies over a limited pool of drivers, and the private sector may offer better pay. Some Minnesota trucking companies, for instance, were paying six figures in October for novice drivers amid a supply chain crisis.

A material shortage could also make the roads more dangerous this winter. Last season, there was a shortage of road salt driven by a number of supply chain factors, including a breakdown of the shipping system. This season, experts foretell further shortages and challenges caused by a semiconductor shortage and the rising price of oil.

“I see a lot of potential trouble for our industry on the horizon,” predicted Rob English of Snow Magazine.

Supply chain issues are beginning to manifest as winter items like snow shovels, plows, sleds and Christmas lights have either gone missing from local shelves or seen their prices increase.