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Diversity In Action

Virginia Beach Public Works moves toward greater diversity

An aging workforce creates new opportunities for diverse candidates at all levels. Not only CEs but MEs and EEs are in big demand

Virginia Beach DPW director Jason E. Cosby: “Some jobs are hard to fill because of the skill level required.”Sixteen percent of the employees in the Department of Public Works (DPW) at the City of Virginia Beach, VA are eligible to retire today. In five years that number will jump to 28 percent. Planning for this transition has given the department an opportunity to reflect on diversity while replenishing its workforce.

“The city as a whole is expanding its workforce development plan,” says Dr Susan Perry, administrative analyst and diversity leader at the DPW. “We’ve spelled out specific actions we would like to take.”

One recent step was to crunch numbers on the racial and gender breakout of the department compared to the city’s makeup. “In some areas we’re doing okay. In others there is some disparity,” Perry acknowledges.

The department also began to bring diversity awareness to its employees by creating a bi-monthly newsletter. Sounds simple, but it puts a fresh spotlight on people at the DPW, with a section devoted to history and diversity. “We are very excited about that,” Perry says. “We hope to make the newsletter available online for the public to view as well.”

The DPW runs fourteen different divisions that oversee the city’s physical and environmental infrastructure. Within the areas of ops support, city engineering and ops engineering, the department has traditional public works responsibilities such as roads and traffic signals and the broader roles of waste management, building maintenance, real estate, even mosquito control. For a city of nearly half a million people, that’s a big task.

The department currently has 875 employees, including fifty-seven engineers. IT support comes from the city’s communications and IT department, although DPW does have twelve staff members to handle GIS and CADD tools specific to the department. This team also decides what goes into the city’s IT enterprise system for the department.

While IT isn’t facing the same brain drain as the rest of the department, engineering is so critical an area that DPW director Jason E. Cosby requested a lift on a seven-month hiring freeze for these positions. “The job descriptions emphasize civil engineering, but I look for electrical engineers who can work on the traffic signals. We also look for mechanical engineers,” he says. “These positions are very hard to fill because of the skill level required.”

Cosby says it helps to have experience in both the public and private sector. The city competes with private companies by offering a matching retirement plan, excellent healthcare benefits and job security. But Cosby does note that if you work for the city, you have to understand that the public has input on major projects; this may impact the department’s success as a business.

Most engineers working at the department have professional or technical licenses or training. But as part of its diversity efforts the department has created an internship program for college students. During the summer of 2008 eleven interns joined the department; five were engineers. Cosby notes that several interns may be offered jobs after graduation.

For more seasoned engineers, the department works with the Institute for Transportation Engineers. Department members serve on the boards of local institutions and collaborate with other city departments during the hiring process.

Though 40 percent of the department’s employees are African American, Cosby acknowledges the need for more diversity in engineering and leadership. He is working closely with managers during the hiring process to achieve this result.

Despite its size, Cosby believes the department has a “family feel.” Everybody comes together for United Way fundraisers and a Day of Caring where employees work together on a community service project in the city. Cosby hopes this will help retain workers longterm, so they can move up to fill more experienced engineering positions as senior staffers retire.


City of Virginia Beach, VA
Department of Public Works Logo.

City of Virginia Beach, VA
Department of Public Works


Headquarters: Virginia Beach, VA
Employees: 875
Yearly budget: $1.27 million
Business: Oversight of the city’s physical and environmental infrastructure

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