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By Angela Cotey, Associate Editor
Funding and capacity top transit agency execs’ concerns these days, but there’s another issue creeping up the list: tomorrow’s workforce. Many transit employees are at or nearing retirement age.
“We’re feeling the impact of the ‘Baby Boom’ — there’s so much talent walking out the door and retiring,” says Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Beverly Scott. “To have that much experience leaving, coupled with the fact that we haven’t been great with workforce planning, it’s a double whammy.”
Dedicating funds to improve workforce development and train employees will be key for MARTA to overcome its workforce issues, Scott says.
At the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), about 30 percent of rail and bus mechanics have reached retirement age. So, the agency is negotiating contracts that would encourage some of those workers to stick around a little longer while it launches a workforce development plan. WMATA is working with private groups and local school systems to establish technical training programs.
“We’ll need hundreds of rail mechanics over the next few years,” says WMATA General Manager John Catoe. “We can’t wait for others to develop programs.”
Other transit agencies are taking matters into their own hands, too. Earlier this year, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and Transport Workers Union Local 234 developed a joint apprenticeship program under which the agency and union plan to provide workers the skills necessary to maintain current work productivity standards. New technologies and processes have made skilled laborers’ responsibilities more complex, the partners said. They also plan to provide the necessary resources to meet future manpower demand.
And, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265 developed a Joint Workforce Investment Transportation Career Ladders program, which will offer a training and mentoring plan. The program also will provide maintenance trainer resources, build career ladder programs and create recruitment opportunities for people seeking public transit careers.
But after agencies recruit workers, they need to retain them — and that’s becoming more of a challenge as the industry grows.
“Almost everyone needs signal maintainers right now, but no sooner do you get a signal maintainer certified, the private sector comes in and takes them for contract work,” says South Florida Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Joe Giulietti. “That’s exactly what happens in an industry that experiences tremendous growth rapidly.”
Workforce retention and career development don’t only apply to rank-and-file positions. Many transit managers are nearing retirement, too.
“The management team is my age, and we won’t be around another 30 years,” says Catoe. “I remember going to APTA meetings and being called the ‘leadership of the future.’ It’s very obvious now when I look around the room that we’re going to need a major influx of new people in a very short period of time.”