Leadership losses, difficulty recruiting and retaining qualified employees and changing external customer expectations have many transportation agencies, including ITD, re-considering how they do business in the coming years as “Baby Boomers” start retiring.
For ITD’s Mary Harker and other human resource managers, the immediate challenge has grown from one of filling vacancies to the development of a process to identify future workforce needs and find ways to meet those needs.
The Transportation Research Board summarized the coming human resources problem in a 2003 special report titled “The Workforce Challenge:”
Harker said she experienced the problem in 2000 when ITD endured a wave of early retirements. “It started to stabilize, but is starting again,” she said, citing a loss of institutional knowledge and difficulty replacing retired workers as a chronic legacy.
“The number of people going to college to study civil engineering is steadily declining,” she said. “Not nearly as many young people are choosing to be engineers or even work in the public sector.”
She added that in 2003 ITD received 120 applications for the position of staff engineer. This year, the department received fewer than 20.
The solution begins, according to Harker, with acknowledging the problem. “We need to get our senior managers to pay attention,” she said.
ITD’s Human Resources staff organized a Workforce Summit in October to begin raising awareness of the impending shortage. As a result, ITD will develop an action plan by December that recommends possible solutions.
High on that list will be continued involvement with American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) Sub-committee on Human Resources and work on many of the recommendations that have been proposed as possible strategies by ITD’s HR staff.
Some of those recommendations include:
Harker said the recommendations are only a beginning intended to spur “energetic thinking” and participation in addressing the workforce challenges that lie ahead for ITD and all state transportation departments.
“The time to act is now, and we are the most appropriate group to move this important effort forward,” she said.