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Workforce Development Open Forum provides insights for hiring, retention

Jobs in roadway work are plentiful, growing and offer lifesaving purpose

The demand for roadway industry jobs is strong and will continue growing, Karen Bobo (above right), director of the Center for Transportation Workforce Development at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), said at today’s Workforce Development Open Forum.

The “critical task” is developing a qualified workforce, she told the group attending the Open Forum held as part of ATSSA’s 51st Annual Convention & Traffic Expo. The question for everyone was how to achieve that.

Bobo cited the following statistics and said it’s essential to identify emerging skills and training that will be needed and finding effective ways to attract employees who will want to invest in the industry.

  • Between 2012 and 2022, the average employment growth rate in transportation is 11%.
  • Transportation is projected to add more than 400,000 net jobs due to industry growth.
  • An additional 4.2 million transportation workers are needed to fill vacancies created by separations.
  • The transportation industry will need to hire approximately 4.6 million workers, and equivalent of 1.2 times the current transportation workforce.

One key to attracting employees is starting young – as early as kindergarten, Bobo said. She said a program in Memphis sought to start that process and encountered initial resistance from parents who thought the job path was for bus drivers rather than a broad swath of transportation careers – from construction personnel to engineers to lawyers.

Another key to recruitment and retention is understanding the outlook of people entering the work force today. Millennials, for example, want to know they are helping somehow, Bobo said.

Developing a recruitment and retention strategy involves incorporating “the why” of the work, said moderator Jeff Zaharewicz (above left), who serves as acting director of the FHWA Center for Accelerating Innovation.

Those two factors work hand in glove and fit naturally with the roadway safety infrastructure industry, which is about saving lives, they said.

In addition, transportation work impacts everyone – providing pathways to places such as work, healthcare and recreation, points to highlight in marketing positions to potential workers.

“Right now is a prime time to get that why message out,” Bobo said. “COVID put a lot of people out of work. Show why it’s beneficial to retool their skills for the highway industry.”

Statistics show the generation entering today’s workforce will make three to five career changes in their lifetime, Bobo said. Employers can help their personnel see these changes can all be within the industry, which has many facets.

Juanita Shanks, founder and president of FailSafe-Era in Fredericksburg, Va., addressed the forum and said one group looking to re-enter the workforce is people previously incarcerated. They are eager to obtain job skills and find work that can provide a future for them and their families. FailSafe-Era currently partners with many groups in the Fredericksburg area including ATSSA. Shanks said she would be happy to discuss her model with people in other states.

The discussion that took place at today’s Workforce Development Open Forum started four years ago and is one that will continue, Zaharewicz and ATSSA Director of Training Rameeza Shaikh said.

As companies continue looking for answers, Zaharewicz said people within the industry should continue collaborating, focus on marketing its jobs as an opportunity to save lives, and to explore resources outside the normal sphere.

“Proverbially, take a hike,” he said. “Look around for a fresh perspective. Take the time to get outside the world you’re in.”

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