Retirement of baby boomers puts the industry in a critical position as there will be a shortage of skilled employees over the next five to 10 years. The industry is responsible for attracting and developing employees to ensure it maintains a sound workforce.
The industry is working at developing programs and sharing best practices so information and resources can be shared to ensure stability as the workforce ages.
The American Public Transportation Association’s Blue Ribbon Panel for workforce development was tasked with looking at where APTA and where the industry was in terms of workforce development; what gaps there were and what was needed to do in terms of moving the discussion and the work related to this topic forward.
Doran Barnes, the blue ribbon task force chair and executive director of Foothill Transit, says APTA recently completed a survey of its members focusing on the question of workforce development and of what’s going to be happening in the industry in terms of planned retirements and departures. That work began almost concurrent with the blue ribbon panel work. “As preliminary results came in, it helped inform the work of the blue ribbon panel,” Barnes says.
“We’ve got some interesting data in there in terms of some trends, some issues as they relate to what the participants saw, some forecasts in terms of who might be leaving the industry that will help us determine the magnitude of the challenges that we’re facing.” It validated the concerns and the challenge ahead for the industry.
“If we don’t have the people and resources to carry out our work, then there’s no way that we can carry out our mission,” says Barnes.
And in recruiting people to the industry, one of the challenges is the image, he stresses. “Most people when they think of transit, they think of a coach operator and a mechanic.” He continues, “Those are certainly very important jobs, but if you look at a typical transit agency, those are just some of the many opportunities that we have available.
“We need people with all sorts of skill sets and certainly we need operators that can perform safely and that can provide high levels of customer service, but we also need planners, engineers, financial professionals, marketing and communications professionals; there is really a huge range of skills that we need in order to make sure the transit industry is successful.”
He stresses, “I don’t think that college students think of all of those possibilities when they think of us as an industry or a career path.”
From his work on the Blue Ribbon Panel, Barnes says there are a lot of really good programs that are out there. “I’m amazed at the incredible programs that are out there and often those programs are operating quietly and without a lot of connection and the ultimate goal in all of this work is to be able to connect all the dots and be able to see what that spectrum of work is so we can really leverage all of that to achieve our ultimate goal of having a high-quality workforce for the industry.
“Agencies need to be telling the story of the transit career choice and that can be getting involved with school career days, it can be including information in their customer communication pieces. We’ve got to make sure we’re all telling the story about what a great career transit is.”
Preparing Future Generations
One of organizations working with youth and potential future transit employees is The American Cities Foundation’s (ACF) with its demonstration project, Project Transit. It is funded primarily through a grant from the Federal Transit Administration and the Department of Transportation and the ACF’s summer internship is funded through the Philadelphia Youth Network.