Unique even now, the Southern California Regional Transit Training Consortium (SCRTTC) began in 2004 to provide a training resource network, comprised of community colleges, universities, transit agencies, public, and private organizations, focused on the development and delivery of training and employment of the transit industry workforce, with a particular focus on bus maintenance. Today, it has grown to not only include parts of Central and Northern California, but also recently launched a distance-learning component.
“We initially had 29 members when we began back in 2004,” explains the SCRTTC’s Executive Director David Stumpo. “Over the years, some colleges have dropped their technical programs, and therefore their membership, but now as we are 13 years down the road, we have grown overall to now include 46 members.”
Over the last 13 years, the consortium has been a vital resource in providing supplemental training, and in some cases, serving as the main source for maintenance training for smaller agencies in their network, outside of the supplier training that comes along with adding new equipment or components.
“Our program doesn’t replace any training the transit agencies provide or their trainers, we are simply an add-on; a synergy to getting their training accomplished effectively,” says Nina Babiarz, training director for the SCRTTC.
After receiving its initial funding through the Federal Highway Administration, the SCRTTC began with a needs assessment to look at what areas of training needed to be developed.
“From that day forward, we began building courses based on the needs of transit agencies and utilized colleges in our member network to do that under our Standard Operating Procedures for course building and certifying courses,” says Stumpo.
Stumpo adds that what the assessment found was that much of the training transit agency technicians were receiving from suppliers was inadequate, and that many agencies in the consortium didn’t have in-house training programs. The SCRTTC’s needs assessment process has been performed yearly ever since, adds Babiarz, because the need for specific types of training change rapidly.
With the SCRTTC doing annual assessments, one of the biggest issues they have found that transit agencies are facing in the maintenance shops is retirement.
“A lot of history and knowledge is walking right out of the door and that institutional knowledge needs to be replaced by folks that are currently climbing through the ranks,” says Babiarz.
Another issue facing shops is the growing changes in technologies, especially as electric buses usage continues to grow around the nation.
“Especially here in California, there are mandates dictating that our transits move to zero-emission electric buses, and some agencies are even considering hydrogen fuel-cell buses,” Babiarz explains. “With that growing usage, there is a need for advanced courses, but agencies are finding they can’t just leapfrog right to that type of training because they need those basic, foundational courses first.”
To develop a course, the consortium starts with a beta designed by subject matter experts, which includes the educator, a transit agency, and a trainer, as well as a manufacturer if applicable. Once the beta is delivered, the process moves forward.
However, if 25% of the content changes during the initial beta process, the course must go back through the beta process again where it is then re-delivered.
Following the beta process, the course then enters a train-the-trainer module, where the instructors are called in and taught how to teach the course. Once the process is completed and no more changes are made to the course, the course and instructors are certified. Certified teachers have to co-teach, initially, and then are fully certified after that to teach the course anywhere, anytime.
“We tend to say, if all the operations and maintenance materials exists, that the process can take six to eight weeks from start to finish,” Stumpo says. “Sometimes if we’re going to do instructor-led or build a distance-based component, the process can take about 14 weeks.”
To date, the consortium has developed more than 29 courses and delivered more than 71,404 hours to more than 4,990 students.
Slowly but surely the consortium’s membership has begun to grow beyond just Southern California to Central and Northern California. Stumpo says the delay in growth for the consortium toward the north was because there was never a champion to bring the colleges and transit agencies together. As time has passed, however, more colleges and agencies are beginning to come online to help expand the consortium’s reach.
“Several agencies began to see the importance of our curriculum and that they could certify some of their own folks certified to deliver our courses,” says Stumpo. “In some cases, our members from the south have gone north to deliver training, and those in the north are always welcome to come south for training as long as they don’t mind paying a bit of travel. Either way, it is essentially still cheaper than other training available.”
Recently, a $673,000 FTA Innovative Workforce Development Grant enabled the SCRTTC to begin building distance-based courses that consortium members and others would be able to take online. The first course developed for the new program focused on DVOM, or digital volt ohm meter, training.
“When we started developing the course, our developer was so profoundly excellent in building these tech courses,” Stumpo says. “What they were able to create was a system where, if you had your iPad in your hand, it became a live meter that enabled techs to move the leads around, see meter readings, and see switches turn on. So it really was more than just a textbook course, it became a real-live interactive learning experience.”
Since the development of the first course, the SCRTTC has created three more courses, including a foundational electrical class and a CNG vehicle safety course, as well as a course for Cummins’ INSITE engine control management system. The consortium has also created a blended class, which includes one day in the classroom and one day online, enabling techs to only have to be out of the office one day for training and essentially complete the course through the distance-based module.
“Through the development of these e-courses, we have proven that distance-based learning is a viable option for the transit agencies and their technicians, which means that we are continuing to do our needs assessments and build more ecourses,” Stumpo says.
As the ecourses proved to be successful, Stumpo adds that agencies from the north, including Solano Transit, Sacramento Regional Transit, Santa Cruz Metro, and more began to come onboard.
In addition to growing its distance-based courses, the consortium has also begun working with manufacturers, including BYD, Proterra, and Complete Coach Works, to develop training standards for working with their electric vehicles. The SCRTTC’s collaboration with CCW and Gardena, Calif.’s GTrans has already yielded a bumper-to-bumper training program for the agency’s new all-electric buses, powered by CCW’s ZEPS system.
Babiarz and Stumpo say the SCRTTC’s model is possible in other regions, but agree that the wealth of both colleges and transit agencies in Southern California was a key component to making the consortium possible. They also cite their partners’ willingness to work together as part of their success.
“The consortium was founded by the folks that were on the front trenches of making all this stuff happen and it was really their willingness to collaborate that fueled the consortium early on, and even still,” says Babiarz. “Everybody really gives what they can.”
Babiarz adds that collaborative spirit also carries over outside of the consortium’s on-site trainings and meetings.
“People make personal contacts at our trainings too, and utilize those new relationships by bouncing ideas off of one another or learning how maybe they addressed a similar issue they are having in their shop,” she explains.
Reflecting on what he would do differently, or how he would advise others considering a similar model, Stumpo says that finding a more sustainable funding source is key.
“Early on, we were operating from one grant to another, so our program really toggled up and down, in terms of what we could deliver,” he says. “If we had more sustainable funding early on, we probably would have been more ramped up then we are today. Now that we’re a little more sustainable, we are really ramping up our distance-based training and our strategic intent of building a national model.”