New York City Transit (NYCT) has spent billions of dollars on new technology to make its system safer and more efficient for a growing ridership. In particular, electronic and computer technology have been used to centralize rail control and streamline communications systems. But with these new technologies come new hurdles.
Because they are overlaid on an infrastructure that is a century old, technological changes at NYCT are not functional overnight. There is typically a transitional period during which the old and the new operate simultaneously until all glitches are resolved. Such a transition requires workers with knowledge of the old system to be sufficiently trained in the ways of modernized transit operations, ultimately ensuring the safety of the riding public.
Technology begets training
Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100-NYCTÕs Training and Upgrading Fund (TUF) was established in January 2003 to train the incumbent workforce in the skills needed to focus on NYCT’s new technologies and open up job opportunities. TUF’s goal is to provide NYCT workers with assistance and training to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing environment. The usefulness of the program is based on extensive research.
In 2001, TWU Local 100 initiated a study titled “Options for Member Education and Training.” Specialists in adult education headed the study, and the results indicated that computer skills and basic electronics training would be extremely valuable for employees looking to take advantage of new opportunities provided by common transit technology upgrades.
Another study sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) “TCRP Report 29: Closing the Knowledge Gap for Transit Maintenance Employees: A Systems Approach” confirmed these findings. The FTA report recommended that transit agencies build “an in-house training capability, partnering with local community colleges and operating joint labor-management committees for workplace improvement.”
Responding to these studies, the TUF created several basic technology training courses, including one each on computers and electronics. Thus far, nearly 3,000 NYCT workers have completed the computer course, and about 300 have taken the class on electronics. Other training initiatives include basic training for civil service test preparation, which more than 700 workers have completed, and courses on English as a second language, defensive driving and attaining a GED.
In April 2003, a 75-hour course called Telecommunications Technology in Transportation (T3) was launched in conjunction with the New York City College of Technology. Exploring how new technologies are being applied throughout NYCT operations, employees in the class engage in presentations, hands-on assignments, demonstrations and field trips to new facilities. The objective of T3 is to put employees in a better position to explore opportunities for career and educational advancement. So far, about 1,300 TWU Local 100 members have signed up for the program, and more continue to register.
Crucial to the development of this training initiative is Dr. Robert Paaswell, director of the University Transportation Research Center Region II at City University of New York and former CEO of the Chicago Transit Authority. His discussions with the leadership of TWU Local 100 have created the foundation upon which TUF stands today. With his vast expertise in the field of transportation, Paaswell continues to guide the program.
With $9.1 million, overseen by union and management trustees, TUF gives “opportunities for NYCT workers to remain highly skilled, thus providing the best possible service and maximizing the value of the public investment in transportation.” The TUF serves the best interests of both the union and the transit agency because it provides more job opportunities and improves service to NYCT customers. These goals attempt to create mutual support in workforce development and collaboration between labor and management in hopes of improving mass transit in the long run.