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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Changing Workforce Development Needs for Regional Transportation Planning Agencies in California


The transportation industry faces future workforce challenges, including a lack of trained personnel in fields such as engineering, construction management, and intelligent transportation systems (ITS). The public sector will be particularly hard hit because it faces the threat of attrition at senior levels as skilled workers retire or move to the private sector.

The issue of transportation workforce development has received attention at the national level. Research has been conducted through the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) on workforce needs of the public sector, although these focus exclusively on statewide agencies like DOTs. Little, if any, research has been done on the training and workforce needs at the regional level where Metropolitan Planning Agencies (MPOs), Councils of Government (COG), and transit agencies are engaged in both transportation planning and operations. In California, the workforce capacity of MPOs in particular was challenged by the 2008 passage of Senate Bill (SB) 375. This legislation uses the transportation planning process to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It requires MPOs, in partnership with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), to establish greenhouse gas emissions targets. MPOs are also required to include a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) in the regional transportation plan that demonstrates how a given region will meet established targets.

This project aims at understanding how fundamental changes from SB 375 and other legislative mandates have impacted MPOs from a workforce standpoint. Using online surveys, job scans, and in-depth interviews with members of COGs and MPOs in California, we determined the importance of several factors on workforce capacity. These factors include recruitment, available funding for professional development, curriculum content in college and university programs, and the role of in-service training. Results indicate that, for regional transportation planning agencies, there is an increased need for functional modeling expertise to comply with SB 375 mandates and the need to accommodate a shift toward activity-based modeling. The interview participants acknowledged that SB 375 increased responsibilities and changed processes for MPOs, including the need to consider the possible impacts to the agency of litigation over the SCS or the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). The interviews also indicated that, MPOs hire personnel with diverse skill sets—ranging from engineering to modeling and public outreach—to deliver on SB 375 goals. The report seeks to document the evolving role of MPOs resulting from the kind of mandates enacted by SB 375 and the concurrent demand for both traditional skills sets relating to regional planning processes and those that respond to demands for planners to: (1) Optimize existing projects by making them “smarter” and further ensuring that these projects contribute to environmental sustainability; and (2) link transportation planning to land use patterns with the intention of diminishing vehicle miles travelled (VMTs) and associated pollutants.

These are new inextricable planning synergies that require planning professionals to marry traditional transportation planning skills with climate change assessment and abatement skills, referred to in this report as “sustainable transportation planning skills.” This expectation is tacitly set forth in SB 375 and is impacting employee hiring and retention, and employee salary needs, as well as the need for additional training and skill building. The study’s findings will contribute to the knowledge of workforce development needs as well as the potential for policy responses at the federal, state, and local level.

View the NCST Project Webpage

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