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Chapter Two


Staffing and workforce issues affect agencies’ ability to deliver and maintain transportation infrastructure. Agencies must maintain a high-quality staff to accomplish goals. U.S. agencies have traditionally maintained design and construction administration staff in-house to ensure quality and consistency. As U.S. transportation agencies shift from a new construction mode of operation to one of system preservation, much of the planning, design, and construction work is being outsourced, reducing the hands-on opportunities attractive to engineers and technicians. Maintaining a high-quality staff is not only an issue for the highway agencies, it is also an issue for consulting firms that work with the highways agencies. The international agencies and consultants on the scan were asked about how they maintain quality staff, both in-house and with consultants, to meet agency goals and customer needs.

U.S. Parallel - Staffing Issues

Construction management staffing has become a significant issue in U.S. highway agencies. State highway agencies are being required to build more with fewer staff. Historically, agencies have maintained design and construction administration staff in- house to ensure quality design and construction. However, increasing industry demand for engineers and technicians, more competition for workers, a large number of retirements, the need for broader skill sets, and different expectations of young engineers are making it difficult for some agencies to maintain an appropriate staffing level. For example, State DOT full-time employment has dropped 5.3 percent while budgets have increased 56 percent (FHWA 2003). Figure 3 shows a case study from the Michigan DOT. From 1974 to 1994, the agency’s full-time equivalent engineering staff dropped from about 5,200 to 3,200. At the same time, its expenditures more than doubled. While the Michigan example is somewhat extreme, U.S. highway agencies generally are being challenged to maintain appropriate staffing levels to meet their customers’ needs.

Figure 3. Graph comparing Michigan DOT highway capital program investment level, including routine maintenance, with number of employees from 1994 (when program investment totaled $790 million and employees totaled 3,659) to 2004 (when program investment totaled $1.3 billion and employees totaled 2,876).

Figure 3. Example of staffing issues in the United States. (Michigan DOT)

The international highway agencies are experiencing staffing issues similar to those found in the United States, and are dealing with it in several ways. No one solution exists for the amount of work outsourced to the private sector versus the work kept in-house. Table 3 provides a summary outsourcing analysis from the agencies involved in this scan. The first column of the table lists planning, design, and construction activities, which traditionally have been done with agency staff in the United States. The remaining columns list the approximate amount work outsourced to the private sector. The percentages are only estimates provided by the international highway agency interviewees, but they provide a good reflection of the overall use of in-house staff versus consultants.

Table 3. Construction management outsourcing analysis.
Outsourcing Activity Ontario Germany England2 Scotland The Netherlands Finland
Design 80-90% 30-100%3 100% 100%4 70%5 100%
Testing 100% 50% 100% 100%6 100% 100%
Construction 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
Construction Contract Administration 95% 0% 90% 100% 50% 0%
Maintenance 100% 0%7 100%8 100% 100% 100%

As seen in table 3, some international agencies are quite similar to U.S. highway agencies in their use of private sector consultants, while others have almost completely outsourced traditional highway agency functions. Germany and the Netherlands are most like the United States in their approach to design and construction staffing. They maintain a higher level of in-house engineers to perform design and construction administration. The Bavarian highway agency in Munich, Germany, performs about 30 percent of its design for interstates in-house and about 70 percent for federal highways and state roads. No consultants are used for any aspect of project delivery, except for areas with highly specialized designs or extremely unique or difficult components. Germany also maintains its system with state staff, but it is the only country that still performs that function. The Netherlands is being downsized by almost 20 percent, primarily through retirements and phasing out of positions, but it recognizes the need to maintain expertise and involvement in the technical aspects of the program. It is maintaining areas of expertise in specialized areas such as bridges and tunnels. Finland has a relatively small agency staff, but it prefers to maintain construction management functions in-house. Finland has a goal of less government involvement in transportation projects in the future and is working on procurement strategies and longer-term agreements with consultants to support a reduction in staff from its current size of about 1,000 employees.

England and Scotland are perhaps the most different from the United States in their use of in-house staff. The Private Finance Initiative of 1991 and a series of other issues have led the Highways Agency in England to outsource 95 percent of its expenditures. It has only a small engineering staff in-house, and has changed from the role of providing engineering functions to overseeing them. The agency considers itself a network operator rather than a provider of engineering services. The scan team observed that the Highways Agency anticipates and is comfortable with losing technical expertise over time while focusing more on director/management expertise. Likewise, Scotland uses consultants or local authority agents for almost its entire planning, design, and construction needs. The Scottish Executive Transport Group oversees the country’s entire highway operation with just over 50 engineering and 50 administrative employees. Before 1990, the Scottish Executive did more engineering in-house, but it has been transferring roles and responsibilities to the private sector in an effort to reduce staff. The Transport Group’s staff is responsible for management, maintenance, design and construction, standards, and procuring, accounting, and evaluating the delivery of projects and contractor/consultant performance.

  • All of the international highway organizations involved in this research are experiencing a reduction in internal staff.

Recently, Ontario has been moving toward the English and Scottish models. The Ministry of Transportation made a decision to outsource its operations in 1996. This decision was driven by an economic analysis. The government determined that the private sector could conduct the ministry’s functions much more economically. The goal of this outsourcing was to gain a 5 percent savings. Officials stated that they have witnessed a 12 percent cost savings in these functions from 1996 to 2004 because of outsourcing. They still maintain a staff of about 2,400.

Generally, all of the international highway organizations involved in this scan are experiencing a reduction in internal staff and an increase in the use of consultants. Even the Netherlands and Germany, which as stated previously most resemble the United States in their approach to staffing, are changing. At the time of this report, the Dutch were reorganizing the transportation department to focus more on its core business, which they define as network management. This includes a change in staffing. New staff members will be incorporated, part of the present staff will be trained, and some will have to find new opportunities in other organizations. Rijkswaterstaat will downsize from about 11,000 employees in 2004 to about 8,000 in 2008. In Bavaria, staff declined about 18 percent (about 1,350 persons) between 1994 and 2004 to 7,000 at two motorway (interstate) head offices, 23 district road offices, and 42 motorway and 91 road maintenance depots. Bavaria continues to witness a staff reduction through fluctuation (meaning the agency is taking on fewer staff than it is losing through retirement). The agency also is experimenting with reforming the road administration to meet the challenges of the future. Bavaria has established a task force for implementing the A-Model, described in this chapter. Per directives from the German government, the agency is focusing this task force on delivering, operating, and maintaining the highway network. The task force is designed to operate like a typical business in the private sector with strategic planning, performance measurements, and audited financial statements. Administrative and operative centers are designed to generate a profit or essentially operate as nonprofit within budget, and have primary objectives to motivate staff, encourage innovation, and be result oriented and customer focused. While this is only an experiment, the team observed that Germany, like the other countries involved in this scan, is using the private sector more for functions traditionally done by highway agency staff in the United States.

The scan team was also interested in how international highways agencies maintain high- quality staff, both internally and in their consultants, to achieve their agency goals. Internally, the agencies have training programs similar to those of U.S. agencies. The Bavarian highway agency requires one week of continuing education per year. Technicians attend technical training courses annually. The U.K. Highways Agency uses mentoring programs for new entrants and promotions, as well as informal annual training requirements and refresher seminars to maintain a trained staff. In addition, the Highways Agency uses industry workshops and surveys to obtain feedback from the private sector and determine areas for staff and/or policy and procedure improvement, thereby letting its partners help determine the education and training needed. The Scottish Executive uses mentoring programs as well as informal annual training requirements to maintain a trained staff with effective management skills rather than technical experience and expertise, although it values its intelligent client role. The Scottish Executive obtains feedback from the private sector with informal discussions rather than formal surveys like the English Highways Agency. The Dutch are implementing an extensive training program for the new contract delivery programs that includes mentoring and in-house training. They have what most U.S. agencies would consider traditional technical training and seminars.

The international agencies involved in this scan are experiencing staffing challenges similar to those found in the United States. All of the agencies have experienced downsizing in staff over the past 10 years and an increased use of consultants for traditional construction management activities. For in-house staff, the agencies use training methods similar to those found in the United States. For consultants and industry partners, the agencies use a variety of what U.S. agencies might consider nontraditional project delivery, procurement, and quality assurance processes.

For more information on staffing issues in the United States and abroad, see European Practices in Transportation Workforce Development, International Technology Program, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC, June 2003.

95 percent of the Highways Agency’s expenditures go to private firms.

Road design totals 40 percent (the design finished before bidding, such as traffic analyses, dimensioning of road and traffic-joints, number of lanes, etc.), construction design 30 percent (the design after bid, such as preliminary calculation of statics, masses, costs, etc.),geotechnical survey 100 percent, final plans and quantities of construction 100 percent, statics testing/structural analysis 90 percent.

No design is done with government staff. Designers are also retained to monitor construction onsite.
By 2007, the Netherlands expects to do only 2 percent of design.
Contractor verifies testing though a client representative. Third-party United Kingdom Certified Testing (UKAST) contractors do this task.
In some Länders, maintenance activities are accomplished through a combination of the transportation agency and contractors with agency oversight.
Both maintenance operations and management of maintenance are outsourced.
Development of technical standards is funded by the Department for Transport and carried out by England for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, who participate in a review function.

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