New Eno Report: Transportation Workforce Planning and Development Strategies

Federal and state transportation workforce shortages are widely considered a problem, presenting “a present and growing need” for workers. However, although jobs in transportation are available for people with various levels of education, traditional training pipelines frequently are not designed to steer graduates toward the transportation sector. Furthermore, the types of jobs and skills needed are evolving. With increased automation and changes in the role of technology, jobs in the transportation sector are likely to change.

It is clear that new and robust workforce strategies are urgently needed today to meet critical staffing needs and develop the current workforce. Many voices highlighted these challenges in our recent special edition of Eno Transportation Weekly.

As part of Eno’s ongoing initiative to address transportation workforce challenges, Eno recently completed a report for the Transportation Research Board to synthesize the current state of practice associated with the implementation of transportation workforce strategies at state departments of transportation (DOTs) and associated Local Technical Assistance Programs (LTAPs).

The project—part of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program—investigates the current state of practice and identifies challenges, opportunities, and lessons learned through a literature review, survey, and five case studies. It addresses all modes of surface transportation and focuses especially on young adults, second career professionals, veterans, and encore careerists.

The survey of state DOTs and LTAPs found there is a consistent lack of employees to implement full training programs. What’s more, training and human resources/workforce planning functions are often located in different organizational units of the state, and most focus on traditional roadway engineering, safety, and equipment technical instruction. Topics also relevant to the modern state DOT—such as planning, environmental/cultural protection, and multimodalism—are lacking.

That said, the case studies demonstrate that there are a number of best practices other states should consider. For example, the Ohio Office of Local Programs/LTAP Center uses a sophisticated training evaluation model for post-course evaluation, and conducts a return on investment analysis for select courses. The Alaska DOT Office of Research, Development, and Technology Transfer has a nationally recognized leadership development program that focuses on cross-discipline, peer-to-peer knowledge exchanges. Montana’s LTAP participates in collaborative partnerships, as does New York’s LTAP. To address workforce pipeline challenges and plan for future needs, the Michigan DOT Performance Excellence Section implements internships and co-op programs, including ones that encourage veterans and students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities to learn as interns.

Together, the literature review, survey, and case examples revealed several related findings:

  • There is no standard definition or understanding about workforce development and, partly as a result, there is no clear consensus about how to handle many workforce challenges.
  • In only one-third of the states, the state DOTs and LTAPs are closely coordinated and work collaboratively and share resources and communication outlets.
  • Practice is slowly changing as the skills required in transportation departments today and in the future go beyond the traditional construction, maintenance, and operation missions of agencies.
  • More research is needed focusing on developing a national perspective for transportation workforce planning and development. A common definition and characterization would help to clarify both the traditional needs inherent in workforce development as well as future trends.
  • States may also wish to consider expanding their portfolios of course offerings and focus on multimodalism, planning, and managerial and leadership “soft skills.”

This report shows activity and interest for continued transportation workforce strategies. Many states, LTAPs, universities, and private partners providing leadership and training are keenly aware of the broader U.S. workforce in general and have developed a robust and diverse set of professional and training practices. But one thing is clear: the work and need for workforce strategies will remain of paramount importance and must continue to evolve to meet the needs of a changing workforce and industry.

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