Traveling new roads Featured

5:44am EDT June 30, 2003
In 1995, District 12 of the Ohio Department of Transportation didn't have a very diverse work force; a little more than 16 percent of the employees for the district were minorities.

"We never quite had the focus until we really started working as a team with the deputy district director to increase the percentage," says Tony Urankar, business and human resources administrator for District 12. "Sixteen percent for our urban area (District 12 serves Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga counties) was not that good."

In 1997, the district began implementing a plan to increase the number of minorities in the work force to match the level of minorities -- 21.25 percent -- in the general population in the area the district serves.

It started by filling open mid-level positions from its existing work force, which opened up entry-level positions. A training officer was promoted to mentor new employees, and management started looking for people with soft skills -- such as a commitment to public service -- in addition to the hard skills necessary to do the job.

"We started looking at nontraditional recruitment," says Urankar. "We had reps at the Black Family Expo and went to events during Black History Month. We would go to Hard Hatted Women events. We might not always have openings, but we are trying to fill our files with qualified candidates and promote the department as a great place to work.

"We want everyone to know that we are doing this because we know it's important and that we care."

The district also established a program to recruit potential candidates from the Cleveland Public Schools. Students are mentored by the training officer for four months while preparing for their commercial driver's licenses. So far, the program has netted 14 successful applicants, 11 of whom are minorities and one female.

The results show the programs are working. The district now has a work force that is 22 percent minority.

"Our diversity balance continues to skyrocket," says Urankar. "There's a changing of the guard, and with it, a change in our attitude and culture." How to reach: ODOT District 12, (216) 581-2800

Top notch

The best job candidates aren't always the most qualified.

Just ask Tony Urankar, business and human resources administrator for ODOT District 12. In 1997, the district was ready to start hiring again and decided it would pursue candidates who had the necessary licenses to start immediately.

"The leadership at the time thought the best employee would be able to jump right in the truck so they wouldn't have to be trained," says Urankar. "What that yielded was 16 employees, two of which resigned the first week. Today, of the 16, there are four left."

The reason was that by targeting this type of employee, you typically ended up with someone who has 20 years of service with other companies and has multiple resumes out.

"These were people who had been laid off from other companies and had applications in all over the place," says Urankar. "If someone offered them $2 an hour more, they left. Most of them just went with us because we put food on the table.

"We were very happy thinking we were getting highly skilled workers, but we were getting resignations faster than we could bring them in."

That experience led to a shift in focus to training, mentoring and looking for a commitment rather than just a list of licenses and experience. The district now focuses on finding the right person and giving them the skills they are missing rather than just looking for candidates who already have the skills but aren't really committed to public service.