MnDOT’s snow operator training adapting during pandemic

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is wrapping up training for its new snow plow operators.

Like with most things, this year brought new challenges for their 200 new drivers because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It’s a whole different deal," said Rick Shomion, maintanence training coordinator for MnDOT.

MnDOT’s snowplow operator training is typically held at Camp Ripley, the 53,000-acre training facility. But the pandemic forced them to change some things, including where they instruct drivers.

"We have chosen to do the training in each one of our districts," Shomion said.

Shomion said the biggest challenge was the metro. With 45 new operators last week and another 45 this week, they found a home at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

"Some of these people are pretty new to driving a big vehicle so the only way they can actually learn that is actually be in the seat," Shomion said.

At one point, because of social distancing, MnDOT even considered having just one person in the plow at a time and using video technology to communicate.

"We were looking at ideas like that, that’s not the ideal situation. It’s much better to have the person in there riding with the person so they can see exactly what they’re doing," Shomion said.

But with masks and open windows, Shomion said they’ve been able to double up in the trucks. Similar social distnacing practices are held in the classroom.

"We just found some creative ways to make it happen and we are making it happen," Shomion said.

Training wraps up next Friday, and with the winter season feeling like it’s already here, MnDOT is ready.

"The more comfortable we can make the operator, the better it is for them and the motoring public," Shomion said.