Dearth of seasonal applicants leads township to hire full-timers

MAPLETON – The public works department here was left scrambling after its annual job posting for winter seasonal maintenance workers did not attract any viable candidates, council was told on Oct. 22.

In response, council has  approved increasing the public works department staff compliment, with $73,000 taken from the operations budget to hire four full-time, year round workers.

In previous years the roads division operated with six full-time staff in summer, supplemented by six seasonal operators and various private contractors from November to April, to deliver winter services.

“In September we put out an ad recruiting for six seasonal staff to run our afternoon shift as we do every year and we were unable to recruit any applicants,” public works director Sam Mattina said.

Council did receive two applications, Mattina went on to say, but neither were appropriate as one did not meet the qualifications and the other did not show up for the interview.

Public works staff have received confirmation that two seasonal workers that have done the job before will return, but they were unable to fill the four additional positions.

Offering the full-time positions, Mattina said, will attract more applications and fill the position as it is a much more appealing offer.

Councillor Paul Douglas asked Mattina, “Are you confident with the posting for the four qualified candidates, that will make a difference?”

Mattina said he had complete confidence offering four full-time positions would result in a better outcome.

“Full-time employment is a more lucrative lure than seasonal work. Working for a municipality is a career of choice,” said Mattina.

“We’ve analyzed the situation and come up with some internal recoveries and current funding in the budget.”

Initially staff estimated the additional cost of hiring four full-time maintenance workers to be $163,000.

However, after reallocating other funding in the budget, including $50,000 for summer students, $10,000 for sidewalk snow removal outsourcing and $30,000 for  other downtown snow removal tasks, staff was able to reduce the amount to $73,000 in additional funding.

It has also meant reallocating various tasks to public works staff.

Councillor Marlene Ottens said one of her main concerns is how it would affect sidewalk clearing for students walking to school in the winter.

“I am still not sure that I  see how the sidewalks would get cleared in the morning in time for school kids to get there if these people are clearing the snow on the road which the six would usually being doing,” she said.

Mattina clarified sidewalk operation is separate from the roads operation. Reallocating funding usually set aside for outsourcing the sidewalk clearing, Mattina said public works will also reallocate arena staff to clear sidewalks.

Mayor Gregg Davidson asked whether other municipalities faced the same difficulties.

“It’s been increasingly difficult through the years to recruit the winter seasonals. In years gone by there would be a need for 20 operators and you would get 50 applicants,” said Mattina.

Centre Wellington, he noted, faced similar issues.

Councillor Martin asked what happens if council were to not approve Mattina’s request for additional funding.

“Should this not be approved, it would impact our response time; we would then most definitely be out of compliance with the maintenance standards … which will open us up to third party risk to the corporation and the claims that could follow from that risk,” said Mattina.

Davidson asked, if the request were not to be approved and the township did not hire the four full-time workers, what the cost would be to hire a contractor for winter roads maintenance.

“We are too late in the game, to tell you the truth, to contract this out. Winter is on our doorstep,” said Mattina.

“Contracts of this type that are struck are generally 10-year contracts and it is not a short-term, fast solution.”

Council unanimously approved the request.