The snow and ice community, as a whole, has long struggled with recruitment and retention issues of available, qualified, and dependable staff to support the ongoing needs, tasks, responsibilities, and obligations as associated with winter maintenance. The issues are not unique to snow and ice control and furthermore extend to all areas of highway operations and maintenance. Any number of synthesis, research documents, publications, and case studies can be cited to provide validation of the issue and every practitioner of any years’ experience can confirm the reality.
As cited within numerous reports and publications, there exists many variables which contribute to the inability to successfully recruit and retain individuals in these roles. Identification of the variables can typically provide a footprint for establishing potential strategy and countermeasures aimed at creating a more successful approach for achieving desired outcomes. Additionally, greater consideration is being given to the evolution of today’s workforce and the changing face that represents the “traditional” highway worker.
One such area of focus includes the recruitment and retention of females in the traditionally male dominated maintenance and operations workforce. While the 2019 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cite women as making up nearly 47% of the total workforce, the percentages as reported for public works leadership and highway maintenance operations are drastically lower. The American Public Works Association cites less than 20% of public works leadership positions as occupied by females and Data USA details 98.3% of all be found through the employment of diversity within the workforce. There are indeed many advantages to be found for both employee and employer by stepping outside of the normal modes of operation and those well-established comfort zones.
Public works managers have shared their stories validating the advantages and benefits that women bring to their teams and illustrating the vital roles women play in operations management:
• Mark Valenti, CPWP-S, Manager of Operations, Town of Lexington, MA – “We have two females at 15-plus years. The attitude is what separates a good employee from a great employee. Liz and Sue have great attitudes.”
• Karen Mondora, P.E., Director Public Services, City of Farmington Hills, MI
– “…the first female heavy equipment operator in the city’s history…has proven herself to be so capable and professional…has paved the way for future female operators….”
• Kelly Maurer, Assistant Director of Public Works, Cranberry, Township, PA – “My words of wisdom to any woman is do not underestimate what you can achieve. Place value on individuals and interactions as much as technology and tools.”
• Beth Skowronski, Assistant Superintendent, McHenry County, Illinois, Division of Transportation – “Words of wisdom… Never underestimate what you can achieve. The only difference between try and triumph, is the umph!”
The Women of Winter….WOW! As a nearly 40-year veteran of this business, it does my heart good to showcase the achievements of other females who are committed and dedicated to our world of public works. Have a look at some of these women, their accomplishments, and words of wisdom for others considering such roles.
Teamster, Los Alamos National Research Laboratory Roads and Grounds, NM, and a private CPR instructor
• Delivers fuel, transports equipment and materials, roadway maintenance and snow removal
• Previously – Protections Officer and Volunteer Firefighter
• Professional Truck Driver after completing truck driving school securing a Class A with a HAZMAT endorsement
Farmington Hills, Michigan, Operator 2 – Road inspection, equipment operation, brine making, snow and ice control
• 2012 – Farmington Hills Parks – Part-time irrigation work and sidewalk snow removal
• 2015 – Farmington Hills Parks – Full time
• 2016 – Farmington Hills DPW as a laborer
• 2017 – Promoted to Operator
• 2019 – Operator 2
City of Cincinnati, Ohio, DPW, 25 years of service
• Began as a laborer in concrete and asphalt
• Earned a CDL and worked snow and ice
• Runs heavy equipment, certified crane operator and CDL instructor
• Word of wisdom: “NEVER give up, BELIEVE that you can do anything, LEARN whatever you can.”
City of Cincinnati, Ohio, DPW, 24 years of service
• Snow and ice from Day 1
• Tandem Axle Plow Truck
• Brine Truck
• Paint rig
• Words of wisdom: “Positive thinking is the best…keep your chin up and learn everything.”
Cranberry Township, PA, Street Division, Department of Public Works, Utility II Crew Member
• Over 30 years of experience in road construction projects, equipment operations, street sweeping, boom mowing and overall facilities projects
• For winter maintenance, manages a 25-mile route for Cranberry Township and is known as the “Brew Master” for overseeing the Brine Operation
• Words of wisdom: “Don’t be intimidated and don’t be afraid to prove yourself.”
Vermont Agency of Transportation, Journeyman Transportation Maintenance Worker
• 2014 – Started with agency
• Earned a Class A CDL with tanker endorsement
• Winter duties include plowing, greasing, and making repairs to the dump assigned trucks, putting on tire chains, replacing plow and wing blades
• “Working in an all-male industry has it challenges but there’s nothing that can’t be overcome…. women can overcome and do the same job….”
• Words of wisdom: “The more days you overcome the more you gain. Take one snowflake at a time!”
McHenry County, Illinois, Division of Transportation, Maintenance Worker
(AKA “the plow chick”)
• 2008 – Began career and move to the County in 2011
• Numerous certifications
• Proficient in aerial lift, brush chipper, front-end loader, forklift, chainsaw, mowing tractors, stump grinder, skid steer, snowplow, Class A CDL with liquid tanker endorsement, NSC flagger certified
Idaho Department of Transportation, Maintenance Worker
• Maintenance Worker (previously waitress)
• 2018 started as a temp brine maker
• Hired as full-time and secured CDL
• Words of wisdom: “Any women out there thinking about trying something like this but are worried or scared of the unknown of what may or may not happen, I’d tell them to go for it. It’s nerve-wracking at first to find your place and your voice, but I kept a positive attitude and worked as hard as I could to get where I am today, and now I can’t see myself anywhere else!”
While this story showcases only a few of the females who dedicate their lives to public works and winter operations, it is, again, a snapshot of feedback composed of women from across the country representing various roles within winter operations detailing their stories, knowledge and wisdom as a conduit to helping others to adapt and overcome and helping agencies better understand the potential and the advantages found through employing diversity.
The author would like to personally thank all of those who contributed to this story for their dedication, commitment, hard work, and willingness to share their stories with others as an effort to uplift and encourage the Women of Winter, WOW!!!
Diana Clonch, of DW Clonch, LLC, and her associate, Diane Watkins, have a combined history of nearly 80 years of service in public works and highway operations. They remain available as a resource to others seeking to likewise, find their place in the industry, and to assisting agencies and organizations find methods and solutions to facilitate change management associated with moving beyond the “normal modes of operation.” Diana Clonch can be reached at (614) 989-0316 or firstname.lastname@example.org.