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Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

 
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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-17-003     Date:  March/April 2017
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-17-003
Issue No: Vol. 80 No. 5
Date: March/April 2017

 

Innovation Corner

by Robert Ritter

Developing Tomorrow’s Transportation Workforce

Highway agencies and their partners in the private sector face a challenge to building, operating, and maintaining the Nation’s transportation system: a shrinking workforce.

“The transportation industry and contractors are losing their seasoned workers,” says Virginia Tsu, director of the Center for Transportation Workforce Development, one of four centers in the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Innovative Program Delivery. “They have not been able to recruit and retain enough qualified replacements.”

The public sector is facing the same hurdle. “It’s becoming harder to compete with private sector salaries and benefits,” Tsu says, “especially with a smaller pool of qualified workers.”

To help, the Center for Transportation Workforce Development works closely with public and private sector partners to coordinate a range of programs to educate and develop the transportation workforce.

“Combining FHWA’s workforce-related programs into one center provides a central place where our external partners can come for assistance and support,” says Tsu. “This is an opportunity to take a new look at our existing programs and develop new initiatives to enhance transportation workforce development.”

Highway Construction Pilot Project

One of the center’s new projects, the Highway Construction Workforce Development Initiative, explores how to link qualified applicants more effectively with on-the-job training in highway construction. The 2-year pilot, which began in fall 2016, involves a partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor and transportation organizations to identify, train, and place workers in high-need occupations.

The Department of Labor and FHWA are collaborating on the project with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Associated General Contractors of America, American Road & Transportation Builders Association, and State and local workforce investment boards. The partners chose six cities--Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis--and six States--Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Idaho, Rhode Island, and South Dakota--where they are working cooperatively to attract qualified people to jobs in highway construction.

Each partner leverages its organizational network to pinpoint skill gaps or identify potential applicants and training programs to fill those gaps. The pilot cities and States tailor their recruitment and training efforts to their resources and labor supply. Measurable results will include the number of workers trained, hired, and retained for at least 6 months.

“We are confident the pilot will enable us to identify techniques and mechanisms that can be replicated across the country to recruit and retain a skilled and diverse workforce,” Tsu says.

(L–R) Former Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez, South Dakota Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist, and then FHWA South Dakota Division Administrator Virginia Tsu meet with local engineering supervisors Greg Aalberg and Mike Heiberger in Sioux Falls, SD.
(L–R) Former Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez, South Dakota Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist, and then FHWA South Dakota Division Administrator Virginia Tsu meet with local engineering supervisors Greg Aalberg and Mike Heiberger in Sioux Falls, SD.

Workforce Development Programs

In addition to the pilot project, the center has ongoing initiatives to fill jobs in highway construction, transportation systems management and operations, and transit. For example, the center’s On-the-Job Training Supportive Services Program helps highway agencies create training and apprenticeship programs, including programs to increase the participation of minority, women, and disadvantaged workers in the highway contracting workforce.

The center also offers post-secondary education programs, including the Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship Program, which supports university students pursuing transportation-related degrees. The Summer Transportation Internship Program for Diverse Groups, provides students with hands-on experience working in the transportation industry.

Other programs target students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The Garrett A. Morgan Transportation Technology Education grants go to educators to develop curricula that enhance awareness of transportation-related careers. In addition, the National Summer Transportation Institutes offer programs to middle and high school students to boost their science, technology, engineering, and math skills and encourage them to pursue transportation-related studies in college.

“These programs are all based on investing in our future,” says Tsu. “Bringing these programs together in one center enables us to strengthen and grow our efforts to shape a workforce that can meet the demands of a 21st-century transportation system.”

Learn more at www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovativeprograms/centers/workforce_dev.


Robert Ritter, P.E. is the managing director of FHWA’s Office of Innovative Program Delivery.

 

 

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