Wanted: After pandemic hiring crunch, SEPTA hiring hundreds of people to fill open jobs

The transit agency is on a hiring binge that it hopes will restore its workforce after two years of pandemic-related attrition and hiring freezes.

(Oak Leaf Media/ Courtesy University City District)

(Oak Leaf Media/ Courtesy University City District)

SEPTA is going on a hiring binge unlike any other in the transit agency’s history, seeking people to fill more than 200 vacant positions, doing everything from driving buses to customer service.

The mass hiring comes after the COVID-19 pandemic slowed new hiring while speeding up the pace of natural attrition as employees resigned over the course of the public health crisis. Those 20 or so employees who leave the agency each month couldn’t be replaced due to budget constraints and the inability to train new workers at their normal pace because of social distancing requirements, according to SEPTA.

“Like a lot of employers, we had to institute a temporary hiring freeze,” said Andrew Busch, a SEPTA spokesperson.

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Among other factors, the freeze means that the transit agency is about 6% short of reaching its budgeted total of 2,720 positions needed to run the buses efficiently, said Busch.

Yet as SEPTA moves into hiring mode, it’s been able to restore the size of its training cohorts with the help of partners such as the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, which focuses on helping neighborhood residents find good-paying jobs, said Joshua Park of the group.

Park said once they find the right candidate they will pay for the training necessary to prepare them to get their Commercial Drivers License, the first step to getting a job at SEPTA. “We’re able to kind of match the two together in a successful way, where people are earning that permit and then getting to start most times within a month of finishing their permitting,” said Park.

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‘A dream job’

Amanda Rubiano graduated from the West Philadelphia program after a stint in retail. She said the training was perfect for her to get what she believes is her “dream job.”

SEPTA driver Amanda Rubiano. (Oak Leaf Media/ Courtesy University City District)

SEPTA is now planning more open houses and recruiting efforts, all with the goal of helping others find the dream Rubiano achieved. Part of the agency’s pitch is selling recruits on the benefits they offer that are rare in an economy dominated by service industry jobs

Those benefits include healthcare and a pension, something Bush said isn’t seen much anymore. “We think that’s a benefit that we offer that is not very common these days,” he noted. “Having that guaranteed retirement income, we think, is a very attractive piece of the total compensation that you get here as a SEPTA employee.”

The starting bus driver salary is $40,148 and jumps to $68,000 after four years on the job.

The open positions can be found on the SEPTA website.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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