What started as a search to find a way to remove litter from state highways has turned into training program for workers who need job skills.
A UDOT van with a fully-equip trailer stops along westbound S.R.-201. Crews pick up litter, fix guardrail, install sign bases and complete other tasks under the supervision of Robert Smith, UDOT Road Maintenance Crew Foreman.
Clean-up along state roads is often a low priority in lean budget times. Since litter can cause safety and environmental problems in addition to being ugly, UDOT Maintenance Methods Engineer Lynn Bernhard went looking for a solution by calling other state agencies.
Workforce Services needed places for legal residents who are recent refugees to work in exchange for benefits. But just having workers pick up trash was not good enough. WFS clients needed mentors who could teach them the basics of getting and keeping a job. Both WFS and UDOT personnel were not sure a partnership would work. UDOT put uncertainty aside began to build an employment program based on road maintenance tasks.
Region Two in Salt Lake City was chosen as the location for the new program. Jake Brown, Lead Maintenance Technician at Station 230, was given the job of developing the program. Soon, Jake had identified forty separate skill-based tasks that WFS clients could do without a computer or a commercial drivers license. The first fifteen-person crew started training then working in July, 2009.
There were early challenges. Teaching skills to workers who are not yet English proficient was difficult but UDOT employees developed effective ways to demonstrate how to change a snow-plow blade, maintain landscaping equipment or stay safe while working.
Bob Giolas, left and Jake Brown at UDOT Maintenance Station 230
During an eight week assignment, the WFS crew members learn entry level roadway maintenance skills under the supervision of UDOT employees. Crew members are expected to show up on time, notify the supervisor in advance of absences, complete assigned tasks and perform quality work. At the end of the program, crew members are given a certificate listing the skills gained and contacts to use as references in future job searches.
Success feels good
The year-old training program has enjoyed success. Many of the workers have found jobs. Not all of the WFS sites have a waiting list but UDOT’s program does. “The waiting list is a good success meter,” says Jake.
Lynn and Jake both recognize the intrinsic value of helping people. Lynn says the program is “sure something that feels good.” Jake is pleased that UDOT is teaching skills that can help these newcomers get long term work. “They just want a better life too.”
Because of the success of the partnership, WFS and UDOT are talking about expanding to other cities. And, UDOT has found a way to benefit workers who have previous maintenance experience or a higher aptitude as a fixer.
Check back next week for an update!