Converting job applicants to employees is a full-time challenge for RTD recruiters but word-of-mouth helps

It takes an optimist to try and keep nearly 3,000 positions at the Regional Transportation District filled with productive, committed employees.

Roger Vesely, RTD’s manager of staffing and recruiting, explains why. 

Let’s assume RTD fields 100 applications in a work week. 

In an average group, 50 of those applications will be set aside because the job seeker doesn’t have a valid driver’s license, has recent employment issues or other obvious roadblocks. 

The remaining 50 applicants would be invited to an RTD employment information session, where they would hear about job openings, descriptions of physical or educational requirements, and recent conditions such as mandated six-day work weeks for bus and train operators.

But only about 35 of those invited may show up. Those who do, and are still interested, are asked to schedule their medical review as soon as possible—within a few days. RTD sends them to a clinic for a federally mandated physical, drug screening, and a performance screening based on the job they are seeking (reaching, lifting and pulling, for example, for potential mechanics.) 

Only 25 of the original 100 will be left after the medical screening. If RTD offers all of them positions, about 20 will show up for the first day of training, Vesely said. “I’ve been staffing my whole career and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it like this,” said Vesely, who leads a team of recruiters at RTD.

The competition for those applicants from other employers, from retail to construction to services, is fierce with Colorado’s unemployment rate hovering at record lows. RTD currently offers a $2,000 signing bonus, bumped up to attract more talent. Vesely said he recently learned of a plumbing company offering a $7,500 initial bonus. 

RTD recruiting staff knows that some news stories about operator shortages have featured applicants who said they don’t hear back from the agency after submitting their forms. They likely were among the half of applicants who typically have their queries shelved or put on hold at the initial screening, Vesely said.

“The reality is our focus is on those who meet our qualifications and those likely to be successful,” Vesely said. “It was probably something on their record or employment history preventing them from being considered. Our focus is on getting people in the door and getting them hired. That has to be our priority.”

Recruiting staff meet at least once a week to pre-screen new batches of applications. RTD consolidated informational meetings and group interviews into “one-stop shopping” instead of requiring repeat visits to central locations. New employees start every two weeks. 

“If we process someone on a Monday, and they get to the clinic for medical screening the next day, they could be in a training class the following Monday,” Vesely said. 

RTD advertises far and wide in search of more applicants. But one of the most effective tools in this high-employment era is one implemented by the agency at the same time it boosted signing bonuses -- a $1,000 referral bonus to current employees who land friends or family to fill jobs. 

“That’s the primary way we get people in the door,” Vesely said. “Word-of-mouth is our best source for new employees.” 

Representatives of the current class of light rail operators