In the 1960s, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) recognized the need to develop the next generation of transportation leaders and, under the direction of then associate administrator Jerry Premo (now AECOM), funded university-based management training programs. A mid-manager course at Indiana University, the international studies program at Carnegie Mellon University and the National Urban Mass Transportation Seminars at Northeastern University in Boston were three such programs. The funding was renewed for FY 1982 as Section 11: Research and Training Grants, specifically for “those already engaged in professional activities in public transportation and to attract more of the nation’s young talent into careers in public transportation.” (The UMTA University Research and Training Program FY 1982 announcement.)
The Northeastern seminar alone trained more than 2,500 mid-level managers between 1969 and 1995. (The names of seminar graduates may be found on any list of transportation industry leaders, many of whom attribute their career choice and stamina in the industry to the lessons learned with industry peers in these national seminars.) The lesson from these programs was that continuing education courses made a difference in the careers of transit professionals. From mid to senior level, in and out of private sector, the managers trained over those 25 years are now looking toward retirement.
As funding shifted in the late 1980s, the seminars at Indiana and Northeastern waned from training-specific single agency grants to allowable use operating funds for training. With the passage of ISTEA in the early 1990s, training funding was shifted away from transit agencies to the current network of university transportation centers (UTCs) and National Transit Institute at Rutgers. The availability of training-specific fellowships was repealed in the SAFETEA-LU legislation; however, the use of operating funds for training costs remained.
While the change in funding may have curbed the Indiana and Northeastern models of management training, the international study missions continue through TCRP funding. In addition, the development of the network of university transportation centers to provide training and education continues to flourish.
In 2001 and looking to the needs of the 21st century workforce, then APTA chair Ron Tober (now Sound Transit) established APTA’s Workforce Development Initiative (WDI) to conduct a comprehensive overview of the human resource challenges for the transportation industry. Co-chaired by Beverly Scott (then vice chair of human resources) and Stephanie Pinson (Gilbert Tweed Associates), the resulting report, Workforce Development: Public Transportation’s Blueprint for the 21st Century, raised awareness for the need of succession planning citing an aging workforce and difficulty recruiting for specific job categories, as well as a generational and diverse workforce, and set in motion research to identify the issues and craft solutions. This effort spurned exceptional research and programs, but also served as a model for exploring the industry workforce needs.
From the mid-1990s on, the industry has responded to the transportation workforce’s needs. A partnership between APTA and the U.S. Department of Labor led to the continuation of the Transportation Learning Center’s efforts to develop national training standards and certification and advance bus and rail maintenance training. The National Transit Institute (NTI) provides vital technical, supervisory and project management training; the TCRP International Transit Studies Program continues to expose 20 transportation professionals annually to lessons from our international transportation partners. In addition, the Eno Center for Transportation Leadership educates transit professionals across the career span, complementing the Leadership APTA program. Research continues through TCRP and university centers. The nation’s youth have received exposure to the industry through the APTA Youth Summit and college students are encouraged by the university transportation centers and through APTA Foundation scholarships. APTA’s implementation of Webinars to feature critical issues has complemented industry conferences. While this list should not be considered a comprehensive survey, it provides a flavor of efforts to date. Additionally, there are countless education and training efforts not mentioned above — in transportation agencies, private sector partners and through partnerships with labor, the disability community, WTS, COMTO and TRB — that are vital to the transportation workforce’s development.