Workforce Development Critical for Transportation

by Tamara Halbritter in Oakland Business Review

The transportation industry needs workers. Chris McCarthy warned of the “retirement cliff” in an August 6, 2019 article in Metro Magazine.  “According to a 2017 report from the University Transportation Research Center, up to 50% of the current U.S. transit workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next 10 years.

As transportation workers leave, taking valuable industry knowledge with them, it’s critical that transit agencies and private companies in the industry reach out to potential workers and encourage them to consider a career in transportation.

Acumen Building Enterprise, Inc. (Acumen) is one such company, and Acumen’s Director of Workforce Development Gian Fiero is passionate about recruiting both young and older, more experienced workers for the transportation industry.

Fiero says, “Acumen is actively engaged in dialogues with municipal agencies and agency partners throughout Northern and Southern California to address the pervasive challenges of recruitment and retention that pose a threat to an aging transportation industry workforce.” In addition to collaborating with partners, Fiero is working with staff at Acumen to create a new workforce development plan that will improve Acumen’s competitiveness and result in more people being gainfully employed in transportation.

Acumen’s workforce development plan will facilitate outreach to and training of a new generation of workers to be deployed in a wide array of transportation roles that support systems engineering, program management and project controls. Every quarter, Acumen’s human resources (HR) staff makes a concerted effort to bring one recent college graduate to Acumen who will be exposed to the transit reducing CO 2 emissions.

Acumen is already involved with various science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) programs and invites STEAM graduates to learn about employment opportunities at Acumen. Each year, HR staff also travels to local universities in search of computer science, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering students who are potential Acumen employees.

Other skill and career development initiatives in the works that target and benefit minority and women candidates include partnerships with East Oakland Youth Development Center, Cypress Mandela Training Center and The Hidden Genius Project. Acumen is beginning to coordinate with current clients and invite community college students on project tours to give students information about what they can expect from a career as engineer in the transportation field.

Other workforce development techniques include facilitating internships with local transit agencies. Two recent graduates were brought on by Acumen prior to their graduation to work on BART projects. They gained valuable experience as transportation engineering interns.

Fiero believes communication is key to hiring and retaining employees. “It’s all about finding common ground. We need to clearly identify the skillsets we require and match potential employees with projects in environments in which they will excel. Once they are on the job, we check in with them regularly. That way, if their position changes, we know it has changed. If they need more training, we recommend the best training, such as a course on fundamentals of railway train control and signaling or fundamentals of traction power systems and overhead contact systems, to help them succeed in their role.”

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