May 27, 2020
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Flags at half-staff in honor of lives taken by COVID-19

Photo: the flag outside of the Water's Edge building at half-staff.

Gov. Tim Walz recently directed that all flags at Minnesota's state and federal buildings, like Water's Edge, be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Tuesday, May 19, and on the 19th of every month through 2020 to honor lives lost due to COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Rich Kemp.


Human Resources adapts to COVID-19 challenges

By Joseph Palmersheim

Despite unusual circumstances, some things don’t change: employees are hired, employees retire, and employees need time to take care of their families.

With COVID-19 impacting how MnDOT does business, Human Resources has tried some new methods of getting the job done.

New employees are still notified prior to their start date to complete their personal data. Usually, the employee would review benefits information in person, but due to social distancing, this is now done over a Skype call.

“My staff member Deb Schifsky sets up a Skype meeting and attaches benefit materials,” said Connie Eystad, Central Office Human Resources. “She asks them to review the material before the meeting. They then Skype and she goes through all information and documentation with them just like in person.”
Retirements are done in a similar fashion. Once paperwork is completed, Eystad connects with the employee via phone or Skype.

“I-9 documents are also verified through Skype by my staff member Deb Christopherson,” Eystad said. “FMLA papers were done electronically before COVID-19, so there is no change in that function.”
MnDOT’s recruitment strategy has made a digital pivot as well. The agency participated in several recent virtual career fairs, including CareerForce Center Online Events, Lutheran Social Service Job Club, Military Skilled Trades Online Career Fair, and a transportation and construction employer panel at St. Cloud Technical College.

“We’ve attended virtual career fairs in the past, but we anticipate this to be more common as we move forward,” said Mary Stohr, assistant staffing manager. “We are also able to continue to advertise on numerous online job boards. We believe we’ve seen an increase in the number of qualified candidates contacting us due to the current unemployment rate. They seem to have more questions, so this has required more communication and interaction with candidates.”

Stohr hopes to add a chat function to the external MnDOT Careers website to be more available for applicants and provide a more personal user experience.

While traditional hiring for positions continues apace, new hires for internship programs have been affected by COVID-19.

“We initially thought there would be three student workers hired for Seeds and Phoenix programs, but we ended up making no hires for the programs this summer,” said Bonnie Wohlberg, Human Resources staffing manager.

 Likewise, the experience for Civil Engineering interns may be different than in years’ past due to the pandemic.

“The Civil Engineering Internship Program is hiring two students this summer instead of the 12 we were hoping to take on,” Wohlberg said. “The supervisors will provide a meaningful experience and adequate oversight while accommodating the new students either through social distancing or telework.”



I-35W North MnPASS project enters second year

Photo: vehicles driving on County Road B-2

Crews reconstructing I-35W in the north Twin Cities metro to add MnPASS lanes, seen here from County Road B-2 in Roseville. Photo by Rich Kemp

By Gail Vold Greco, Metro District Communications and Engagement

Year two of the I-35W North MnPASS project is underway in the northern Twin Cities metro.

When complete, the 12-mile stretch of road from Roseville and Lino Lakes will repair aging infrastructure and improve mobility by resurfacing the roads and ramps, add seven noise walls and construct MnPASS lanes in the median. Crews are nearing the midpoint of the project.

MnDOT staged work for the design-build project (with Ames Construction as the prime contractor) to take place on the southbound side in the first year. Work on the median would follow in year two, and on the northbound side in the final year. The lower traffic volumes since March have allowed crews to accelerate some of the work.

“Our crews are able to wrap up a lot of items from last season with less impact,” said Dan Penn, I-35W North project manager. “Typically, we’d need to schedule night work to avoid traffic backups, but we’ve been able to take lane closures during daytime hours, allowing for safer operations.”

With reconstruction work on the southbound lanes completed, crews will turn their attention to work in the center median to build MnPASS lanes in both directions between County Roads C and J.

By August, a major change in traffic pattern will reconfigure northbound traffic between Roseville and Blaine into what’s essentially a very long “chute” pattern, or bypass. Motorists will need to decide at County Road C whether they want to remain in the right two lanes of traffic that allow access to exits in New Brighton, Arden Hills, Mounds View or Shoreview. Alternatively, for travelers headed to points further north, there will be a left through-lane, separated by concrete barriers, with no access to exits until County Road J. This latter configuration, known as “The Blaine Lane,” will remain until early summer 2021.

When complete, the MnPASS lanes will add a fourth corridor to the MnPASS Express Lane system. The I-35W North Gateway Study, currently under review and in the purpose and need phase, will inform how these lanes may someday link travelers from the north metro to and from downtown Minneapolis.



New Code of Conduct policy promotes culture of accountability

By Joseph Palmersheim

A new Code of Conduct policy aims to familiarize employees with ethical conduct and how to report wrongdoing.

The policy, adopted March 23, stems from a 2012 Minnesota Management and Budget Statewide Operating Policy requirement that each executive branch agency to establish and maintain a formal code of conduct and ethics program. While MnDOT had complied with that policy prior, the agency adopted a requirement last year that all employees are required to take the Code of Conduct training.

“Since this change differs from the MMB policy, the new MnDOT policy was created,” said Danielle Jansen, Safeguarding MnDOT Coordinator, Office of Financial Management. “This choice was made because all employees are involved at some point in a business process where fraud may occur, for example, entering timesheets or submitting business expenses.”
Under the new policy:

  • All employees are required to complete Code of Conduct training, certifying their knowledge of and agreement to abide by the code of conduct policy.
  • Initial training must be completed within 30 days of hire at MnDOT.
  • All employees must annually recertify their agreement to abide by the Code of Conduct.
  • Managers and supervisors are required to report Code of Conduct violations.
  • Managers and supervisors are required to ensure employees have clear expectations for conduct.

“The major change was that now all employees are required to take, and annually recertify, the Code of Conduct training,” Jansen said. “Previously, only a small group of employees were required to participate. The new requirement that all employees complete the code of conduct training was implemented early last year, and it took a few months for the policy to be drafted and routed for review/approval. Since that time, we have been able to achieve 98 percent completion rate for our employees. This included working with each district training coordinator to help fulfil the requirement for our district employees.”

Having a Code of Conduct policy, and training, helps establish an organizational culture that promotes honesty and accountability to all employees, Jansen said.

“Fraud can happen in any organization, at any level, both internally and externally,” she said. “It is important for employees to understand what is ethical, to watch for fraud and to understand that they have the ability to report any issues or wrongdoing they may witness.”

Employees can report any Code of Conduct violations, or concerns of fraud, waste, or abuse, by using MnDOT’s report wrongdoing form.



On the Job: Laura Kanten enjoys work in District 8 Human Resources

By Rich Kemp

Photo: Laura Kanten

Laura Kanten works as a technician in District 8 Human Resources. She’s been based in Willmar for the past three-and-a-half years.

What has been your career path at MnDOT?
I’ve been in the HR office in Willmar for my whole career with MnDOT. I started in November 2016 as an HR Tech 1 and also provided administrative support and receptionist duties for the business office. When my co-worker in the HR office retired, my job duties shifted to be in the HR office 100 percent of the time. I was reallocated to HR Tech 2 last winter.

What do you do in your job?
There is such a wide variety of work in the HR Office, which is something I truly enjoy. A short summary of my job duties include: Leaves of absence (Family and Medical Leave Act, Paid Parental Leave, military), new employee onboarding, benefits overview for new employees, retirement consultations, union contract interpretations, job posting and filling, tracking performance reviews, general HR questions and SEMA4 transactions.

What is your favorite part about your job?
My favorite part about my job, and sometimes the most challenging part, is working with people. I feel like I’m part of a great team in the HR office, District 8, and MnDOT statewide. When I first started working at MnDOT, one of my biggest surprises was the longevity of so many of our employees. As a relatively new employee, it’s great to know that MnDOT is a place where people choose to stay.

What are the biggest challenges?
You’ve heard the saying that “the devil’s in the details.” In the HR world, details are everything. I try to hold myself to high standards, and it’s really hard for me when I make mistakes. My biggest challenge continues to be finding information in the contracts and plans, policies, etc., for unique situations or uncommon questions. I am very lucky that I have a great network of people to bug when I have questions. I know I have a solid understanding of a lot of things, but I still feel like I learn something new almost every day.

What kind of changes have you seen in your job?
It’s hard to summarize the changes because it feels like there have been so many. There have been several new processes rolled out in the last couple years, including the CDL Clearinghouse, Paid Parental Leave and changes to the Annual Driver’s License Checks process. District 8’s HR office was also selected to pilot electronic personnel files. Another change we experienced was a physical change to our office space when it was renovated and re-arranged in 2018. It seems like we’re constantly experiencing changes and learning new things or improving processes because of it.

Do you or a co-worker have an interesting job to share with readers? Send us your ideas, and we’ll contact you for more information. 

Recent employee profiles: 



Global Accessibility Awareness Day reminds us to make information usable to all

By Michael Ligday, Co-Chair of FUEL Employee Resource Group

Michael Ligday. Submitted photo

Thursday, May 21, marked the ninth Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

The purpose of GAAD is to get people talking, thinking and learning about digital access, inclusion and people with different disabilities.

In a typical year, members of the FUEL ERG would have sent materials to the districts and had a table with materials and challenges set up in the lobby at Central Office. Well, we all know that this is not a typical year. With many of us working from home, I’m sure most of us had some sort of accessibility issue: Internet connectivity, speed, VPN or something else. While those are all temporary issues that can be fixed, they underscore the importance and the extent that we all rely on digital content to do our jobs.

Now imagine how the estimated 1 billion people worldwide with some kind of disability feel when trying to connect to content that is not designed to be accessible. I know most of us are not designing webpages or program user interfaces, but MnDOT content needs to be accessible. I ask that you visit the websites Global Accessibility Awareness Day Resources Page or MN.IT Office of Accessibility Page and look at some of the information there on how to make your documents and meetings more accessible.

Accessibility in this age of digital information is important, and it’s every MnDOT staff member’s job to produce accessible documents and materials.


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