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European Practices in Transportation Workforce Development


June 2003

Click on a link below to go to a specific topic in this chapter:
Career Awareness
Workforce Development
Program Effectiveness



Based on what scanning team members learned in Europe, the team proposes a number of actions that should be further evaluated for possible application in the United States. These actions are grouped into four categories: career awareness, workforce development, program effectiveness, and recruitment. The findings and recommendations are those of the scanning team and not FHWA.

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Develop a funding source and industry-wide commitment to reach into kindergarten through 12th grade to encourage transportation careers.

To ensure that the transportation field attracts the talented people needed to meet future workforce demands, the industry needs a coordinated strategy or a well-defined national initiative to stir the imaginations and interests of young people and encourage them to seek careers in transportation. We need to make students of all ages aware of the jobs and opportunities available in the transportation field, and we should encourage students to start early to gain the knowledge and skills to pursue such careers.

Steps to consider include the following:

Identify the core characteristics entry-level people seek in a job in the transportation field.
Management often does not understand what people most value in a job. Employees usually say meaningful work, training and educational opportunities, and challenging assignments are the chief reasons they stay with a company. Employers, on the other hand, usually point to compensation as being most important to employees.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, State departments of transportation, AASHTO, and universities studying this issue should team together to better understand what young people look for in a job. Anecdotal evidence buttressed by research is needed to determine what college students seek in a job. Those characteristics should then be compared with the culture of State transportation agencies. An organization's culture can be its biggest barrier to successful recruiting.

An exploratory committee of stakeholders should be formed to evaluate this premise and to recommend a course of action. Stakeholders would include the U.S. Department of Transportation, State departments of transportation, AASHTO, universities, and other organizations with an interest in this issue.

Develop a program to introduce high school and middle school teachers to transportation careers and issues.
Students develop career interests as they progress through middle school and high school. By the time they graduate, many already have a perception of their future career - or, at least an idea of what they do not want to pursue. Much of the basis for those prceptions comes from their teachers and mentors.

A program to make teachers more aware of transportation careers and issues should consider the following:

Find ways to attract more young people to careers in transportation.
Transportation employment covers a vast range of opportunities and careers, but it must compete against many other challenging careers. One organization or company alone cannot tackle the task of attracting new employees to the field, but it is possible to make progress if the various partners in the transportation industry work together and leverage their resources.

Options include the following:

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Define critical leadership roles in the face of a changing transportation industry.
The transportation industry is changing, and that requires its leaders to have a new set of knowledge and skills. The transportation industry should define a set of core characteristics and skills (competencies) that leaders need and then strive to provide a means for honing those skills and characteristics in its promising leaders of tomorrow.

Develop industry-wide mechanisms for developing leadership competencies.
A common thread throughout the scanning team's discussions with European experts was the influence of leadership on the workforce development process. In all cases, the European entities, both public and private, made conscientious investments in training and development at all levels of their workforce. The Europeans have discovered, as has the U.S. highway industry, that future leaders must be versed in business acumen. That involves the ability to acquire and administer human, financial, material, and information resources that accomplish the organization's mission and to use new technology to enhance decision making.

Several possible steps for the U.S. transportation industry include the following:

Prepare employees for their changing role in the delivery of government services and products.
More and more government services are being contracted out. Government employees are increasingly removed from customer services and products. Instead, their role is becoming one of contract management and oversight. This role, although important, is diferent from what most public-sector employees were trained for and are comfortable with. Government agencies should take steps to prepare them for this shift in responsibilities and to ensure that they have the necessary skills, knowledge, and tools.

Develop new relationships, institutions, and funding sources to develop and ensure industry-wide practical competencies in transportation workers and technicians.
The transportation industry must continually grapple with advances in technology and methodology and improvements in equipment. To meet the demands for well-qualified, competent staff, the industry must continually train and retrain existing staff, as well as people new to the industry. A recognized and respected institution or training center is essential to the continued growth and quality workmanship of the industry.

Steps toward achieving this goal include the following:

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Engage the entire transportation industry in the workforce development process.
The Federal government, State transportation departments, education community, and private sector have a common interest in developing the human assets needed to design, deploy, operate, and maintain our national transportation systems. To ensure that the transportation field attracts the talented people needed to meet future workforce demands, the industry needs a coordinated strategy or a well-defined national initiative to stir the imaginations and interests of young people to seek careers in transportation. In addition, we need to provide today's employees with continual training and development programs to ensure that they have the skills needed to effectively accomplish the priority work of their organizations.

Organizational success depends on having the right employees with the right competencies in the right place at the right time. A national focus on workforce planning is one way to help ensure an adequate supply of individuals possessing the skills needed today. "A Staffing Plan Survey of State Transportation Agencies," conducted by the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department in September 1999, found that three of the topfive staffing and human resources priorities among State transportation agencies were employee recruitment, retention, and succession planning. Clearly a national dialogue and focus of resources on this overall set of issues would offer the best opportunity to develop national partnerships and approaches to address this on a comprehensive basis. The ideas, creative solutions, funding possibilities, strategic alignment of resources, and commitments made in this context would help energize and engage the entire transportation community. All organizations with a transportation or educational mission should be considred potential partners in a national efort on workforce development. Some type of national coordinating group will be needed to collect and disseminate information and to leverage creative ideas and practices.

An ongoing domestic workforce development scan being conducted by American Trade Initiatives for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program provides an excellent opportunity to assess the current state of workforce planning and development in State departments of transportation. The scan's survey should be broadened to include other transportation partners outside the AASHTO community.

The National Workforce Summit sponsored by FHWA, AASHTO, and the Transportation Research Board in spring 2002 served as a state-of-the-nation dialogue on workforce planning and development. The participation of transportation's chief executives in this session provided a great foundation for future partnerships.

Develop a model for collecting and disseminating best practices.
U.S. highway agencies are accustomed to leveraging their resources by pooling funds for joint research projects (for example, through the National Cooperative Highway Research Program). A program on workforce development issues, modeled after England's Construction Industry Research and Information Association, would be a logical next step. Such a program should involve the highway industry as well as government agencies, as they all stand to gain from it.

As a first step, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program could develop a project to investigate the feasibility of such a program and to propose a plan for evaluating best practices, packaging those practices for a wide variety of organizations in the highway community, and disseminating that information broadly. The project should also recommend how the program could be self-sustaining.

Integrate workforce development and retention into the key business processes of the organization.
One common theme heard repeatedly during the four-country scanning study was that workforce planning and development must be an integral part of an organization's strategic and business planning processes. Workforce planning must be on par with budgeting, strategic planning, and operations. Investing in the human capital of an organization must be a bottom-line item for all organizations, just as important as product and service development and delivery.

The following strategies should be considered for adoption by individual transportation organizations:

Coalitions and partnerships at the local level (schools, universities, trade groups, and associations) and national level (Transportation Research Board, AASHTO, American Road and Transportation Builders Association, Associated General Contractors, U.S. Department of Transportation, FHWA, and others) should identify best practices and develop and provide tools for the systematic integration of workforce planning and development into the organization's business processes.

Establish a common framework for delivering and measuring all types of learning.
In the four countries visited on the scanning mission, it was evident that the government, either alone or in concert with private industry, was responsible for developing a frame work for the delivery of training. Training centers were a key means of ensuring the workforce has the necessary knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies. In many cases, those who have successfully completed a course and demonstrated they have acquired the necessary skills or abilities are provided with documentation of their accomplishment. This serves as a standard for the level and quality of training, which provides employers an across-the-board measure of ability.

To ensure a consistent level of training and a standardized measurement of such training, the U.S. transportation industry should take the following steps:

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Extend and formalize relationships with high schools, vocational schools, and community colleges, which are key sources of transportation workers.

The transportation agencies (and governments in general) in all four countries take an active role in promoting and formalizing their relationships with educational institutions. Transportation agencies are strategically involved in promoting careers in transportation.

The U.S. transportation industry is already attempting a number of strategies to direct students into the transportation field. The primary means of doing so is the AASHTO Transportation and Civil Engineering Program (TRAC), with about 25 member States.

TRAC encourages careers in transportation at various levels, not just in engineering. TRAC's programs are made available to secondary schools (high schools and middle schools) through regional centers that involve State departments of transportation, other government organizations, universities, nonprofit organizations, and private industry. At its most basic level, TRAC is a program designed to integrate with science, math, and social studies curricula. Volunteers from the transportation profession visit secondary schools, where they engage students in solving real-world transportation problems. By providing a link between the classroom and society, TRAC fosters an appreciation for transportation careers and helps draw talented students of all backgrounds to the field of transportation.

The following items should be considered:

Create a means for attracting more students to civil engineering and ensure that anyone who wants to be a civil engineer has access to the necessary educational programs.
Financial means should not be a barrier to a career in civil engineering. If a student is interested in and capable of a civil engineering education, tuition should not preclude him or her from pursuing such a degree. Scholarships and grants should be widely available for aspiring civil engineers who lack adequate financial resources.

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