Retirement could take almost half of WSDOT workers

Forty-four percent of the Washington Transportation Department's 6,500 employees will be eligible for retirement in 2021.

SEATTLE -- The Washington Transportation Department is facing a looming challenge as nearly half its staff nears retirement eligibility.

The agency says 44 percent of its roughly 6,500 employees will be eligible for retirement in 2021. Twenty percent are considered “probable to retire.”

“We have a lot of institutional knowledge that’s heading out the door,” WSDOT Communications Director Lars Erickson said.

WSDOT employs many Baby Boomers who have been with the agency for decades.

“As I look at the new people coming in, they’re going to learn, but it takes time to learn,” WSDOT Maintenance and Operation Manager Chris Johnson said. “So we need to get people in now.”

Johnson has spent the past 35 years with WSDOT in seven different positions. He wants to teach the next generation of WSDOT employees, but he fears he won’t have the chance.

WSDOT is trying to attract Millennials to learn the ropes before those veterans leave, but the agency says it’s hard to compete with the tech boom around Seattle.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s new general budget would help WSDOT raise salaries at least 7.5 percent for engineering, technical and maintenance positions.

The agency has also launched several employment programs, including targeted outreach to military and minorities, as well as a reentry program for hiring ex-offenders.

WSDOT says its team of maintenance supervisors will be hit the hardest by retirements, though several departments face a large exodus. Nearly 80 percent of Washington State Ferry captains and chief mechanics are already eligible for retirement.

The ferry system is in the middle of an internship program that brought eight individuals up from the California Maritime Academy, hoping they could be future employees.

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