As the transportation industry salutes the recipients of Mass Transit magazine’s “Top 40 Under 40,” it may be instructive to notice the paths that led the recipients into the transportation industry. Why pursue a profession in transit? Why stay in the industry? Who served as a mentor or provided encouragement along the way? What are their aspirations and how can the industry help to reach those goals? The 40 professionals are being recognized as future transportation leaders and their answers to these questions matter as we strive to retain their talent and prepare them for the rest of their careers in public transportation.
It is not, however, just these 40 whose talent we wish to employ and retain. These questions may also be posed to the operators, mechanics, supervisors, mid-level managers, accountants, engineers, safety officers, human resource specialists and senior leaders. Why transit? Why stay? How can the industry help them reach their goals? It is the answers to these questions that can help to inform our actions and to establish public transportation as the ‘employee of choice,’ to attract talented and diverse employees, and to retain our valuable workforce.
A 2004 Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP)-funded needs assessment study, conducted by the Eno Transportation Foundation, examined the pathways to leadership of 50 seasoned transit leaders. The CEOs interviewed joined the transit industry early in their careers and moved through the operations ranks or through planning, finance, engineering or policy. Others reported entering the transportation field “by chance” or from a circuitous route through the military or the public and private sectors. When queried for educational background, degrees varied and ranged from planning and engineering to history, architecture, public policy, marketing, liberal arts, finance, operations, education and business. Continuing education and lifelong learning were universally valued as was the role of mentors and advisors. In response to the question “Why stay?” respondents cited the ”good work” of transit, the continuous learning and “the fine people in this great industry.”
While there was not a predictable route to CEO in this sample of transportation leaders, that observation alone widens the field of possibilities when recruiting future transportation professionals. In addition, the implications from this study suggest a role for mentors and continuing education opportunities in the development of the transit workforce, as well as the importance of TCRP funding for research that enriches the products developed to recruit and retain transportation employees.
On the occasion of recognizing Mass Transit’s “Top 40 Under 40,” a look at the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) efforts to cultivate, retain and train the industry workforce is timely. This article provides a historical review of workforce initiatives, followed by current efforts of APTA’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Workforce Development, and the complementary efforts of APTA’s human resource committee’s workforce development subcommittee. The review will show the concerted efforts and great strides made to develop the transportation workforce.
Retirements across all job categories in transportation agencies, significant changes in technology, projected staffing requirements for new and expanded service, and a new generation of workers have been the universal rallying cry for workforce development initiatives. Every 20 years or so, a new wave of retirees exit, forcing a discussion of succession planning and the need to develop the transportation workforce. Forward-thinking leaders have found ways to elevate this discussion, find the resources and define the measures to ensure that transit professionals are trained to carry on the ”good work of transit.”