January 19, 2009
Human Resources Supports Workforce Development
By Mary Ann Collier
Chair, APTA Human Resources Committee
Director of Human Resources
San Joaquin Regional Transit District
At long last, the human resources field has become a more integral part of the strategic business management of many organizations, including some transit agencies. HR professionals have provided leadership to aid in this achievement. However, several external forces and circumstances have added impetus as well.
* Most of us are keenly aware of the aging workforce in the transit field and other industries. Over the next five to 10 years, many transit-employed baby boomers will be retiring, taking a wealth of institutional knowledge with them.
Several public transit agencies have actively engaged in the process of succession planning, workforce development, and targeted recruitment. Transit agencies such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon have implemented programs to address this issue. These agencies will be ahead of the pack in addressing the dire need for new leadership.
* The next issue is how we retain current employees and retrain them to keep them effective in their current positions. So many of the functions in operations and administration require good use of technical skills. With an aging workforce and the influx of new technology, transit organizations have an even greater challenge before them.
A flip side to the second issue is, given the current national economic conditions, what happens if the baby boomers delay their retirement? Two issues emerge: fewer opportunities for recruiting from the next generations and insufficient funds at many agencies for implementing development and intern programs concurrent with maintaining the current workforce.
* We in the transit industry must make careers in transit attractive to the new workforce. Human resources professionals need to do a recruiting makeover starting with job descriptions, marketing vehicles, and by taking a more active use of Craigslist, MySpace, and Monster.com to find their next-generation workforce. Most industries will face the need to recruit from the next generation. We must be able to compete effectively with other industries to attract the desired talent for the public transportation industry.
* Once we successfully recruit the next generation, will our corporate culture, as it exists today, allow us to retain the talent? The expectations of Generations X and Y are different from those of the aging workforce. They want to work smarter, using technology; have greater opportunity for advancement; have flexibility to balance family and career; and have a portable career.
What is being done to address these issues?
* Several agencies noted above have implemented plans to address the exit of baby boomers and the development of the next generation of leaders in their organizations. I encourage HR professionals in other transit agencies to find out as much as possible about the existing programs and emulate and modify them to meet their specific needs.
* The APTA Human Resources Committee is working on six focus areas over the next two years that address the identified issues. Recommendations from the committee will be made accessible to transit agencies.
* APTA Chair Dr. Beverly Scott has named a blue-ribbon panel to address workforce development issues over the next year. The panel, consisting of a broad cross-section of professionals and organizations, can take a strategic look at these issues and provide recommendations.
* It is significant that the chair of APTA selected workforce development as a priority focus during her leadership. This initiative, in addition to the other HR efforts, speaks to the importance of workforce development now and in the coming years. We as an industry have a tremendous opportunity ahead of us. We are up for the challenge. We will make a difference!