Workforce Development: Who Will Run Transit Tomorrow?

Posted on November 19, 2013 by Nicole Schlosser, Senior Editor - Also by this author

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Middle manager development
Meanwhile, early this year, OCTA launched its Management Development Academy, to help middle managers develop the same skill sets as those in its already established Leadership Development Academy, a one-year program focusing on the higher-end positions in the organization at the director and senior management levels.

Approximately 450 of OCTA’s nearly 1,500 employees hold administrative, management, non-mechanic and non-coach operator positions. OCTA selected about a dozen people through a competitive process to participate in the Management Development Academy.

The program selects a senior planner, senior engineer, communications specialist and operations manager and prepares them to be managers by giving them the tools they need to learn to “manage the function,” as opposed to “doing the function,” Johnson explains.

Participants complete one module each month over the course of the year with a focus on cross-training activities, such as board relations, capital program delivery, adversity in the workplace, diversity in the workplace and conflict resolution.

OCTA’s manager of training development took its executive team and spent part of its weekly staff meetings developing the program.
In developing the program, OCTA reviewed its organizational chart about four levels down to identify gaps — the CEO, executive, senior managerial and managerial — and went through a process that identified “succession depth” for each position. Each position was rated on a scale of one through four. If, for example, the chief financial officer were to leave, a Level 1 rating would mean the agency had somebody ready to step in. Level 2 is if somebody would be ready within 12 months. Level 3 would take 12 months to 24 months, and Level 4 would be greater than 24 months. A Level 5 means going external.

“When you do that exercise, you realize pretty quickly where you have gaps in your transit succession plan, how you’re developing people and where they’re going to fit into those opportunities,” Johnson says.
In the Leadership Development Academy, Johnson discusses what he calls “the criteria for saying yes,” or, how to determine their criteria for accepting a promotion.

Johnson also wants to ensure employees have the opportunity to see the big picture.

“Often in the transportation industry, and probably others as well, we get functionally stove piped into divisions or departments,” he says. “Cross-functional opportunities, rotational assignments and job shadowing are really important for people to become leaders.”

Even with 13 years of management under her belt, Gracie Davis, Access section supervisor, OCTA, who began the Management Development Academy in May and completed four modules so far, says the program has been rewarding.

“I have staff members that I have to motivate and encourage daily,” Davis says. “My program has a gamut of different personalities, diagnoses and disabilities, so to keep individuals upbeat and moving forward is, to say the least, challenging.”

Davis applied for the program because she wanted to learn more about motivation and encouragement as well as gain a stepping stone to move up a management level.

Homework includes a self-assessment, a take-home work assignment after each module and required reading of online articles.

The program has given Davis tools to help motivate her staff and give some effective listening, problem solving and creativity tools she has used to streamline a certification application down to one page.

Connie Raya, base manager, Santa Ana maintenance base, Orange County Transportation Authority, participated in the Leadership Development Academy. The program offers several sessions; a 360 leadership review; evaluation and feedback from supervisors, peers and subordinates; and participants complete a personal assessment.

“I’ve been in transit for almost 20 years,” Raya says. “There might be opportunities in other areas [that] I wouldn’t necessarily look at in the past, but with the skills I have in management, I can go into any division in a leadership role just knowing a little about it, taking the skills that I learned and work on developing those that I already have.”

Veterans bring leadership
SWTA started its Veterans in Public Transportation program in 2011, prompted by an effort on the part of the Obama Administration to increase outreach to the veteran population, both to active duty members getting ready to leave service and those who had already left service, Joyner says.

Joyner also had a passion for creating the program because she comes from a long line of veterans. Her dad was a Marine Corps drill sergeant in World War II and the Korean War. Her mother was a member of the Navy, and her husband and all of her brothers-in-law are veterans.

SWTA’s Walt Diangson, trainer, has helped develop the education aspect of the program. He and Joyner go to job fairs and work with military offices that provide introductions to different fields of service outside of the military and make them aware of education benefits under the GI bill for those still in active duty service before they get out of the military. Traditionally, public transportation has not been connected to out-processing programs, so SWTA makes contacting these offices a priority.

SWTA demonstrates to career counselors that transportation has a lot to offer anyone coming in from the military, pointing out that job prospects in public transportation extend beyond drivers and mechanics.

“While those are very important, we also talk about planning, management, communications and IT positions that might be open,” Joyner says.

Additionally, SWTA’s Build a Bridge course for military personnel helps transition veterans into transit management, covering topics from finance to motivating employees, and changes they will find in the transit world.
One challenge in trying to connect with someone who is currently on active duty is they may not get out of the military for six to nine months.

The process can even take up to two years.

“You can’t go with the idea that you’re going to hire somebody,” she says. “Most of the time, it’s getting the person pre-trained.”

Another hiring challenge is the seniority process, particularly in the driver and maintenance areas. There are many men and women who are getting out of the military with leadership qualities and the aptitude to run a transit agency, but they don’t have direct transit experience, Joyner says. It can be difficult for them to think about moving into public transportation where the only starter job may be a Saturday driver or mechanic and it takes several years to move up in seniority.

“The industry needs to look for leaders first, because we can teach transit,” she says.

SWTA is also encouraging agencies, starting with El Paso, Texas-based Sun Metro, to provide early transit experience by getting special permission for military employees to be Saturday drivers so they don’t have to start at entry level when they are out of the military.

A new federal regulation will push all federal contractors to hire veterans at an 8% level as of March 2014. However, nearly 50% of San Antonio’s VIA Metropolitan Transit workforce are already former veterans. Abilene, Texas’ CityLink also has a high percentage of former military in its workforce.

“Citing those kinds of numbers against the 8% national expectation really shows what public transportation not only is capable of but what they can aspire to,” Joyner says.

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