Guest Op-Ed: Investing in the Transportation Workforce of Tomorrow

August 15, 2018    

On a sun-drenched day this past June, officials from LA Metro and the County of Los Angeles gathered at a long-vacant lot in South Los Angeles to announce the kick-off of our future Transportation School. The school’s purpose is to inspire and educate the teens who may one day work and fill positions throughout the mobility industry.

Skeptics may wonder why a transit agency is getting into the boarding school business. A few simple statistics explain why. At LA Metro, 27 percent of our workforce could walk out the door and into retirement today. That number could rise to 46 percent in the next five years. Almost 70percent of our workforce is age 40 or over. These sobering numbers roughly mirror what is happening across the transportation industry.

In November 2016, the voters of Los Angeles County overwhelmingly approved our Measure M transportation sales tax ballot measure, thereby launching the largest and most ambitious transportation expansion program in the United States. That includes building 40 major transportation projects in the next 40 years (or sooner, if we can) while operating the nation’s third-largest transit system.

Measure M is expected to support and generate 778,000 jobs across the region in the coming decades. If the Measure M work is to be successfully completed, LA Metro must actively get involved in educating, training and hiring our future workforce. This is our E3 concept: expose, educate and employ youth in the transportation industry.

There is certainly no shortage of people in Southern California, but how many people—especially young ones—want to be part of our transportation transformation? We’re already finding that millennials and the Gen Z generation don’t necessarily see themselves in the jobs that we do. They are gravitating toward startups, coding and IT-focused jobs.

Los Angeles County is also a place where too many young adults aren’t working and nearly one-third of our teen workforce is under-employed. With the Transportation School, Metro has the opportunity to address our needs and, equally important, give back to the community by educating youth and providing them with the kind of good paying and quality jobs that sustain families and communities.

The school will be on 4.2 acres of land at Vermont Avenue and Manchester Boulevard in South Los Angeles that was left vacant for more than 25 years after the civil unrest of 1992. Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas represents this area and has championed the project from the start. He worked with his four colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to acquire the property with the goal of transforming it into a thriving mixed-use development with the school as its centerpiece.

The goal is to build a school that can accommodate up to 400 students ages 12 to 18. The college prep and career readiness school would follow a STEAM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) and have mentorships and hands-on learning. Students would live at the school during the week and return home on weekends.

The nonprofit SEED Foundation has entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with the County to develop plans on how the school will be built and operated. The SEED Foundation oversees the nation’s only network of public boarding schools designed to prepare students for college by offering a safe, around-the-clock environment.

Funds from the County and State of California would help fund the school, as well as donations and grants. Metro and L.A. County are working with the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services to target and recruit at-risk youth from under-served communities to attend the school.

The whole point here is to get young people to realize they can have a rewarding career in transportation. Not just a job, but a career. There are existing schools that do vocational training, but they don’t focus solely on transportation. The Transportation School is allowing us to expose people into the industry early and build commitment early.

The approach of giving youth the chance to see themselves as a meaningful resource and that we see them as a meaningful resource is powerful. There is a marriage of people needing purpose and direction and young people needing skills. If they choose to learn about transportation, Metro absolutely believes these youths can be skilled up to attend college and to become the future of the industry.

This is, we think, one of our boldest initiatives. We hope others in the transportation industry — both public agencies and private firms — join us in supporting education efforts such as this. America’s need for mobility isn’t going away and we can’t just hope our the workers and leaders of tomorrow will appear at our doorsteps. The time to act is now.

The views expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Eno Center for Transportation.

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