Workforce Development in the Public Transportation Industry

Ken Mall - Consulting Managing Partner ·

Every day millions of people travel from one place to another using buses, trains, subways, ferries or other forms of public transportation. The larger the city or urban area, the more likely that public transportation is a major driver of the economy and the primary way for a significant portion of the population to get to jobs. Most people don’t realize the agencies that run public transit organizations are in desperate need of new workers to operate and maintain the current transit systems and build new systems to meet the growing demand for transportation options.

Over the next decade, it is estimated that more than 1 million workers will be needed just to replace the workers who retire. The transit industry is also experiencing a technological evolution. Buses and rail cars are able to troubleshoot themselves and send messages to technicians to let them know about potential problems. Computers are now the primary tool in a mechanic’s tool box.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has identified the most in-demand jobs in the industry: Bus Mechanic, Rail Car Mechanic, Railway Signal Maintainer, Substation & Power Maintainer and Track Maintainer. While technical school is often beneficial, college degrees are seldom needed to get one of these jobs. Many transit agencies have apprenticeship programs and most employers in the industry are capable of providing training to workers who show an interest and aptitude for the work. The starting wage for these jobs is typically between $16 and $18 per hour. Educational Data Systems, Inc. (EDSI) is working with the transit industry to help build the skills of current workers and prepare the next generation of workers.

Recently, the City of Dallas launched a new Street Car line. Our team worked with Brookville Equipment Corporation, the builder of the Street Car, to develop customized materials to train mechanics and technicians on how to maintain and repair the Street Car. In early June, our team completed a comprehensive skill gap analysis of CalTrain’s maintenance workforce. CalTrain operates the reginal passenger railroad in the San Francisco Bay area. Through the skill gap analysis process, we provided data to CalTrain to prioritize training needs, as well as identify potential operational and maintenance process improvements.

In Atlanta, EDSI is working with Alstom Signaling, Inc. and Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) on the implementation of a new train control and traction power Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, and the launch of their new Train Control Operations Center. The new systems are the first significant technical upgrades since MARTA began operations more than 40 years ago. Our team is also implementing MARTA’s organizational change management program which is designed to help MARTA’s workforce fully utilize the new systems, and developing the technical documentation and training materials for the new systems. Eventually, we will be assisting MARTA in delivering training directly to their workforce.

Our team is also working directly with APTA to develop standardized Transit Bus Maintenance Training curriculum for use across the industry. Leveraging the collective knowledge of current industry trainers, EDSI is developing training materials that will help new bus mechanics prepare for the transit series of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification tests.

EDSI is also indirectly helping the transit industry with their workforce needs. At the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals conference in Orlando, EDSI gave a presentation on transit industry career paths, describing how people interested in working in the transit industry can gain the knowledge and experience necessary. We are also working with local Workforce Development Boards to help them make connections to transit agencies and identify or develop training programs.

The enormous need for current and future frontline workers in the public transportation industry will provide many career opportunities. EDSI will continue to work with the industry to develop and define these opportunities.

Ken Mall is Managing Director of Workforce Consulting for EDSI. He has advised more than 40 transit agencies on workforce issues, training, change management, labor, and operational improvement over the past 25 years.

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