An Intelligent Workforce For Intelligent Transportation Systems

When I began my career in transportation, one of the biggest challenges I faced, from a workforce perspective, was how to deal with the loss of institutional knowledge when baby-boomers retired. These engineers, operators, and analysts spent their careers building infrastructure projects that helped shape the 20th century landscape.

Over the past 15 years, I have seen this workforce issue evolve from concern over losing institutional knowledge to something as fundamental as how we define our jobs. For roughly the past 100 years, those jobs were primarily to build, maintain, and operate roads and bridges across the United States. In a relatively short period of time, however, jobs that had been fairly static and well-defined have become increasingly complex.

Agencies that were already struggling to find commercial vehicle drivers now also need to find data scientists and analysts. Operating transportation systems has become more complex because it requires a more active approach – opening and closing traffic lanes, changing speed limits, using cameras and weather sensors, both timed and in real-time. Today’s more complex environment requires more technical expertise in jobs that weren’t as mathematical even a decade ago.

The challenges faced by today’s transportation agencies are only magnified as technological changes continue to ripple through the U.S. economy and across society. While driving a taxi used to provide a relatively stable income, the entrance of TNCs into the marketplace caused a major disruption. Transit providers are also seeing a significant impact on routes that typically had consistent ridership.

You often hear of the future of transportation as connected, autonomous, shared, and electric – these trends point to different skills making up a different workforce in the coming years, and we don’t have a lot of time to get up to speed.

Fortunately, we have opportunities to steer young people in new directions. One example is a new “Emerging Leaders Program,” which is being developed in conjunction with the 2020 ITS World Congress in Los Angeles. The program will engage students and developing young professionals to get involved in mobility and transportation through competition and exposure. By targeting college students around the world and high school students across the United States, as well as throughout the Los Angeles metro area, the intent is to highlight the expanding scope of intelligent transportation and mobility and potentially furthering interest in the transportation field amongst the future workforce.

Future jobs and careers in mobility and transportation will be much broader in scope than they are today; encompassing cybersecurity, privacy, and data science among others. These are critical skill sets as we transition into a society that focuses on moving not cars but people, information, and freight.

I give a lot of talks, and I talk a lot about the future. That’s not a coincidence – at ITS America, our vision is a better future transformed by intelligent mobility – one that is safer, greener, and smarter. I am passionate about our mission, excited about the future, and confident that young people coming into transportation together with those in the workforce today will help us realize our vision.

Profile of Shalien Bhatt

Shailen P. Bhatt is President and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America). As its chief executive, Bhatt promotes policies that advance the development and deployment of intelligent transportation technologies throughout the United States. Bhatt is a leading voice in transportation on technology’s ability to save lives and reduce crashes on U.S. roadways. He speaks extensively about the importance of vehicles to communicate with each other and all roadway users as one of the best ways to improve safety and reduce congestion.

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