ITD's Mary Harker leads team that produces
human resources 'tool kit' for state DOTs
The daunting tasks facing corporate human resource directors throughout the country are just as common among transportation departments. With the projected workforce shortage and the challenges transportation departments face to be competitive with private sector, how do they recruit the best candidates, retain them and plan for future resource needs?
Human resource managers in the transportation industry have been asking those questions for several years, explains ITD Human Resource Manager Mary Harker. And within those departments, managers in maintenance, construction, engineering and other professions ask the same questions via NCHRP Research Projects.
It made sense, Harker reasoned, to produce and distribute a comprehensive tool kit that addresses the common concerns among transportation departments.
“I was seeing a lot of redundancy… we were all asking the same questions and producing similar reports that sat on the shelf,” she said. “With the approaching workforce shortage, limited funding and prospects of no additional staff, we were all looking for answers.
“It was a fragmented approach. We needed to develop a vehicle to share the information and avoid duplicating efforts.”
Harker is chairperson of AASHTO’s (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) subcommittee on Human Resources (ASHR), a position she’s held since 2007. She presented the tool kit concept to the Transportation Research Board for consideration under its National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP).
After she and the AASHTO subcommittee presented a problem statement to the research program, it was accepted for funding, and Report 636, “Tools to Aid State DOTs in Responding to Workforce Challenges” was born. It took nearly two years to complete Phase I, production of an 84-page book and an initial prototype database that was beta tested by the ASHR.
Harker served as chair of the project panel.
Initial copies of the NCHRP book were distributed last month and are available from the Transportation Research Board.
The report is “a guide to the selection of practical tools that officials of state departments of transportation can use in recruitment, development and retention of a productive and effective workforce,” explains Andrew C. Lemer of TRB. “This report describes currently available tools for responsible managers to use and provides guidance for how to choose an effective tool for the task at hand. The information will be useful to human resources personnel and DOT managers responsible for ensuring that their agencies have the workforce they need.”
The objective, according to the report’s forward, was to provide a guide to finding, selecting and applying practical management tools for characterizing and assessing HR assets. It provides tools that are currently available, shows how to apply them and gives guidance for judging whether available resources are likely to be useful for specific situations.
Phase II, continued development and implementation of the Web site, is expected soon. That phase will include production of an active database and will establish responsibility for contributing to, and updating the database to endure it remains current and viable.
The NCHRP grant helped fund extensive research on human resource needs by Spy Pond Partners of Arlington, Mass., which also is preparing the Web site tool kit for launching.
The concept of developing a tool kit for managers first surfaced in 2005, Harker said. It took more than a year to lay the groundwork, submit the problem statement to NCHRP and collect input from professionals. Harker has been asked to chair Phase II of the project that will launch later this year and is expected to last six months.
“I am excited about the potential this tool kit will have for DOTs. The hope is that it will make the task of developing strategies to deal with workforce challenges a bit easier. I am proud to be a part of this project’s success.”