Monday, December 25, 2017

In December, it's good to know a plow guy.

A short post from me today but I wanted to highlight something that I have seen pop up in the media a few times over the past couple of years - the shortage of snow plow drivers in rural communities, particularly in Maine. 

Maine, which recently suffered the effects of a massive winter storm, has a severe shortage of plow drivers. As the Wall Street Journal noted today, the Maine Department of Transportation is having trouble finding workers to fill plow driver vacancies. This is exacerbated by the fact that the skills that plow drivers have could result in higher pay in the private sector, a condition that creates a high turnover rate for plow drivers at the Department of Transportation since many will opt to leave the job once they finish their training period. The state's low unemployment rate creates competition for skilled workers, which are often in short supply. Portland, the largest city in the state, is largely able to avoid this issue by using its relative affluence to pay its drivers more. The Department of Transportation however is restrained by the need to obtain legislative approval before raising the wages of workers, an often time consuming process. 

This is at least the second straight winter that Maine has had this issue, which they have decided to address by contracting with a private firm out of Ohio.  It remains to be seen how this solution will ultimately end up panning out. 

I highlight this because it is a great example of how the rural labor shortage can have an adverse impact on services provided to citizens in these communities. I've already highlighted the rural lawyer shortage in Maine and the effects that it has had on the administration of justice in rural communities. There are labor shortages in the other industries as well. 

The role of the legislature in creating the particular problem highlighted in this point also points to the need for state governments to be more proactive in ensuring that the state can remain competitive with private employers in attracting the talent needed to ensure steady delivery of vital services. 

(In case anyone is wondering, the title of this post is a reference to the the 2011 music video "Granite State of Mind 2" by New Hampshire's Super Secret Project, which you can view here. As you might imagine, the actual answer to the song's question, "who's going to plow this town tonight?" is complicated.)  

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