The City of Roanoke’s Public Works Department is comprised of five divisions: Engineering, Environmental Management, Solid Waste Management, Stormwater, and Transportation. Its employees perform a wide range of jobs from motor equipment operators to administrative assistants, from engineers to solid waste workers, from inspectors to technicians. By emphasizing the importance of creating an environment that fosters mutual respect of all people and valuing each employee and their contribution to the workplace, Public Works is building a more diverse and inclusive department to provide outstanding service to the community.
One of the steps Public Works has taken to achieve this goal is to broaden job recruitment efforts through special job fairs and strategic placement of job advertisements to include a variety of organizations and locations. The intent is to make each pool of job applicants as diverse as possible.
A good example is the Public Works Job Fair held in March 2019 to invite workers in the community to consider employment for jobs in its Parks, Fleet, Facilities, Stormwater, Transportation, and Solid Waste divisions. The event was held at the Public Works Service Center at the end of the workday, and was free and open to public. Job seekers had the opportunity to learn about current and future positions with the city, meet with department managers and representatives, ask questions, seek city career counseling, and apply for positions on-site.
“Not only is there a diverse range of job opportunities, but we must also focus on ensuring we have a diverse community of employees doing these jobs at all levels of our organization,” said Bob Bengtson, Director of Public Works. “This means we will work hard at reaching out to the community to find job applicants through schools at all levels, to various community organizations, and through participation in job fairs. And once you have been hired, we must continue to support our diversity and inclusion efforts through conversation and learning opportunities.”
The department also is looking to the future by raising awareness among local youth through interactive touch-a-truck events. In doing so, staff hopes to plant seeds of interest with youngsters to perhaps one day become skilled as heavy equipment operators.
As part of the city’s organizational developmental program, all employees have access to excellent courses that explore diversity. Topics include diversity in the workplace, inclusion in our organization, implicit bias, and stereotypes that hurt. Public Works employees are encouraged to take these courses, which provide an opportunity to interact, discuss, and come away with a renewed perspective of diversity and inclusion issues.
Bengtson noted, “Public Works not only welcomes diversity, we need diversity for better decision making and greater innovation. These courses equip employees to discover and embrace diversity in the workplace, which enhances their interactions with co-workers as well as the quality of their services. ”
As further evidence of its commitment to diversity, the department created a Public Works Service Center Diversity and Inclusion Team. The group works to create a safe place for employees to come to work every day; a place where they feel included, a part of the team. Their Diversity and Inclusion Team has become a great resource for sharing diversity information through outreach at meetings with all Public Works staff, beginning with education and awareness. This includes providing an opportunity to describe the significance of monthly observances by recognizing Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and National Hispanic Heritage Month, to name a few. The intent is to help employees take these conversations on diversity and inclusion to a deeper level. The Team also provides a Diversity and Inclusion Suggestion Box, open to every employee to relay comments or concerns relating to diversity and inclusion issues.
Some divisions, such as Stormwater, use exercises like “Where I’m From” to help staff identify experiences that relate to inclusion and diversity. These exercises provide an opportunity for employees to share their stories as a group, and discover that many of them have experienced the same biases. Staff also adopted the poem “Invitation to a Brave Space” to help employees better understand the importance of being able to express thoughts and feelings in a respectful way. Read the poem here: http://www.mickyscottbeyjones.com/invitation-to-brave-space/
The Public Works Department’s focus on building a more diverse workforce yields many benefits to Roanoke’s local government as an organization. Most importantly, this diversity impacts the quality of work and employee attitudes, which is evident in their commitment to one another and to the services they provide to citizens.
“We welcome job applicants who have the appropriate skills to do what is required, along with a willingness to learn and grow for promotional opportunities,” said Bengtson. “Additionally, we seek persons who can embrace our core values of respect, responsibility, honesty, teamwork, and diversity and inclusion. Working for local government also means having a service-minded attitude that wants to make a difference and make their community a better place for everyone to live, work and play.”
For more information about employment opportunities with the city’s Public Works Department, please visit the city’s website at www.roanokeva.gov/jobs.