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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-19-004    Date:  Summer 2019
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-19-004
Issue No: Vol. 83 No. 2
Date: Summer 2019

 

Innovation Corner

by Tony Furst

Pilot, Playbook, Partnership: Tackling the Workforce Shortage

The highway construction industry is facing a shortage of skilled workers to fill jobs that are too often left vacant. Construction firms say they can fill only 60 percent or less of the open jobs in critical occupations, including heavy equipment operators, cement masons, and iron workers, according to surveys by the Associated General Contractors of America in 2015 and 2018. The worker shortage threatens the safety and efficiency of the highway system by slowing the progress of needed highway projects and delaying benefits to highway users.

To combat threats resulting from the shortage, the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Innovative Program Delivery (OIPD) developed the Roads to Your Future campaign. The campaign provides a customizable approach to hiring that can help overcome the worker shortfall. Roads to Your Future is the result of a collaboration between OIPD, the U.S. Department of Labor, local agencies, and industry.

The Pilot

OIPD, through the Center for Transportation Workforce Development and in partnership with other government and industry organizations, developed a 2-year pilot to help solve the workforce shortage. The pilot included six cities and six States of various sizes and demographics, and concluded in December 2018. The pilot locations experimented with innovative ways to identify, train, and place workers into highway construction jobs.

The Playbook

OIPD captured the successes and challenges from the pilot in a playbook for others to use to build their highway construction workforce. The playbook provides useful practices based on recurring themes from the pilot. The variety of experiences described in the playbook represent efforts from all over the country, and users can tailor the practices to create solutions for any region's needs.

The playbook offers inspiring stories from people like Frank De La Torre, who completed one of the highlighted programs and became a heavy equipment operator.

"The training really changed my life," says De La Torre. "I don't know what I would be doing if I didn't do this."

The playbook also includes best practices for organizing stakeholders, success stories from pilot locations, complete programs ready for implementation, and take-aways on issues others have faced in hiring.

Agencies can learn from examples such as the Arizona Industry Readiness Course. This 1-week training course prepares potential workers for a career in highway construction, covering basic work and life skills required to work in the industry. Trainees also take field trips to highway construction sites to see the real-world conditions they will experience on the job. This program is among several identified in the playbook as proven, scalable, and immediately adoptable by other agencies.

The playbook is available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovativeprograms/centers/workforce_dev/hcwp/.

Photo. An advertisement with a photo of a heavy equipment operator and overlaid text that reads 'One million jobs. One should be yours. #RoadstoYourFuture.' Source: FHWA.
The Roads to Your Future campaign offers free outreach materials like this advertisement to help attract transportation workers.

The Partnership

While the playbook is an important first step, a long-term solution to the workforce problem requires a lasting effort. As a follow-on to the pilot and playbook, FHWA formed the Highway Construction Workforce Partnership—Roads to Your Future. The partnership is a collaboration of national organizations to provide ongoing knowledge, resources, and technical assistance needed to support local hiring efforts.

FHWA and OIPD also provide a collection of free, downloadable Roads to Your Future outreach materials for attracting workers. These materials include print items—posters, flyers, and mailer cards—and digital ones such as social media graphics. Agencies can customize all of the materials with local information.

Through the partnership, FHWA is available to provide direct technical support to help agencies interested in forming a local effort and using the playbook. FHWA will also host peer exchanges, providing opportunities to interact with, learn from, and share ideas with individuals from other locations.

"To take the first step toward addressing your highway workforce needs, read the playbook and connect with the partnership," says Cindi Ptak, managing director of OIPD. "Together, we can transform the way our Nation hires its highway construction workforce."

For more information, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovativeprograms/centers/workforce_dev/hcwp/.


Tony Furst is FHWA's Chief Innovation Officer.

 

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