Manager's Forum

Chicago, Ill.
William Mooney
Chief Operating Officer
Chicago Transit Authority

Operating the second-largest transit agency in a cost-efficient manner, while also providing quality service, is a challenge that requires dedicated and skilled employees.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) serves the city of Chicago and 40 surrounding suburbs. There are 153 bus routes, eight rail lines and all of the facilities and infrastructure that is required to efficiently provide more than 1.7 million rides per day.

CTA has 10,500 employees. While the bus and rail staff are the public face of the agency, it requires each business unit working in conjunction to ensure CTA meets its goal of providing quality service.

It’s important for employees to be aware that the system requires the work of everyone — whether you operate a bus or train; respond to customers’ questions and concerns or work to ensure the stations, trains and buses are ready for service each morning.

To provide that service, it is important to maintain the appropriate work levels today and throughout the future.

CTA seeks to train and develop a young workforce and encourage succession planning so that you don’t lose institutional knowledge.

CTA has a long history of encouraging upward mobility. Most jobs are listed in-house before being made available to the public. CTA also has a tuition reimbursement program whereby employees who wish to learn new skills or to increase their knowledge in order to advance have an opportunity to do so.

Employment at CTA is a career — not just a job. By that I mean people who come to CTA see it as a long-term commitment; there isn’t a lot of turnover in operations.

I began my CTA career in 1975 as a security officer and am now chief operating officer. But I am not alone in years of longevity with CTA. Currently, there are more than 400 employees with 30 or more years of service at CTA; more than 1,500 with 20-29 years of employment; and more than 3,800 with 10-19 years of service time with CTA.

Many of them have transitioned from operator jobs to management positions. For example, both the vice president’s of bus operations and the VP of rail operations started at CTA as bus and rail operators respectively.

CTA provides on-the-job training to new employees. The training incorporates classroom work, simulator training and on-the-road training techniques to ensure new employees are prepared. Training also provides on-going education services so that employees can continue to refresh existing qualifications and obtain new skills.

Still, the knowledge gathered from years of experience is equally as valuable as classroom instructions. That is one reason the agency believes it is beneficial to pair veterans with new hires.

CTA is mindful of the number of employees nearing retirement and works diligently to project the number of individuals who will be needed to fill those positions so that the new employees are introduced to the agency before the veterans leave. That way, the agency is able to partner less experienced employees with veterans of the CTA. This allows the agency to mitigate the so-called “brain drain” — the loss of institutional knowledge when seasoned employees retire.

The agency also operates an internship program that allows college students to work alongside CTA workers to give them insight on what it takes to operate a large system and introduces a career option they previously may not have considered.Students from Northwestern University, the University of Illinois, Northern Illinois University and the University of Wisconsin are among the interns working this summer at CTA.

The agency also collaborates with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois at Chicago to explore new initiatives to help support critical operations and capital investment decisions CTA faces. These collaborations also provides ongoing professional development for CTA employees and the introduction of young transit professionals to CTA employment opportunities.

While the agency provides transit service to take people from Point A to Point B, we also realize that it is a customer-service industry. Since joining CTA in early 2009, President Richard L. Rodriguez has focused on furthering efforts to make CTA an organization where customers and the quality of service they receive are the priority. CTA seeks individuals who are personable and recognize the importance of their contributions as the face of CTA.

CTA employees are crucial to the long-term success of the agency, as is the support we have consistently received from Chicago’s Mayor, Richard M. Daley, who understands the role that a quality public transit system plays in the economic health of the city as well as the entire region.

No matter how state-of-the-art the buses or rail cars, without a stellar workforce, CTA would not be the public transportation system it is today.

Las Vegas, Nev.
Jacob L. Snow
General Manager
Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada

Las Vegas is one the most dynamic communities in the nation. With 2 million residents and nearly 40 million tourists visiting the community, moving people is a challenge. Add to that the fact that the population has roughly doubled every decade and transportation is one of the most critical issues in the region. As a transit agency, metropolitan planning organization and a traffic management agency, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada embraces that challenge.

With a struggling economy and high unemployment, hiring today may seem easy. Here in Nevada, applicant pools for vacant positions are deep. But finding the right person for a job has never been more important. As budgets have tightened, we’re asking more of our employees. They are working with fewer resources. We need employees with creative minds and enthusiasm for the challenges we’re facing. Employees have risen to the challenge. In the words of Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” this is only possible because we have the right people in the right seats on the bus. So how do you find them?

Know what you’re looking for.
Finding the right people starts even before you post the job. Our human resources staff members work closely with hiring managers to determine not just how the job description should read but what qualities and skill sets the right candidate should possess. Are you looking for a duplication of the skill sets of other employees in this job or are you looking for someone to complement, rather than duplicate, the skills of the employees you have? What is the culture of the department or group and what type of candidate will work well within that group? Craft your job announcement and application accordingly.

Cast a wide net.
When posting positions, we start by casting a wide net to look for applicants. We post jobs in traditional places such as professional organizations, job search sites and local newspapers. We’ve also expanded postings to include more ethnic and minority media in order to attract candidates we may not otherwise reach. We amass lists of professionals in the field we’re hiring and send job postings to them, urging them to consider the job or to pass it along to other professionals who may be interested in the agency. Reach out to professionals at other entities within your own community for recommendations.

The best recruitment often comes from our own employees; they are our best ambassadors. They enjoy the work that we do and they tell other professionals about it and why they should be a part of it. Word of mouth has enabled us to lure some of the best professionals away from other entities. That is the type of advertising that we simply can’t buy but that we’re grateful to have earned.

Ask the right questions.
When it comes to interviewing employees, we place a heavy emphasis on asking the right questions to get the answers we need to make the best decision. Craft interview questions that really get to the heart of what you need to know about a candidate’s experience, work ethic and preferences. Ask what type of work environment the candidate excels in and really listen to the response. If a candidate wants an informal work environment but the job requires “by the book” hours and work products, it isn’t the right fit.

Likewise, if a candidate is looking for firm direction on the job and you need someone to develop a vision, the candidate may not be the right fit for the current job.

Don’t rush it.
If you don’t find the best candidate for a job in the first recruitment, don’t settle. Putting the wrong person into the job can take more time, effort and energy than simply opening the recruitment a second time. Look again at the job description. Did you advertise for the candidate you’d like to hire? Did you recruit from the types of places the ideal candidate would have seen it? Did you ask the right questions?

With tough economic times, budgets are shrinking and we’re placing even more demands on our employees. Finding the right employee for the job is more critical than ever. We’ve found that taking the time to do it right allows us to recruit employees who can accomplish more than you ever expected.