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6. SUMMARY AND POTENTIAL FUTURE RESEARCH A paradigm shift is in progress at state DOTs, as transportation agencies are changing their focus from building and adding new roads to maintaining, operating, and managing the system more efficiently and effectively. As DOTs are being called to broaden their focus from construction to finding and creating capacity improvements through more diverse SOM activities, an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the transportation system, traffic behavior, and supporting technologies is more important than ever. DOTs' changing mission and broader responsibilities require a workforce capable of addressing the newer areas of electrical engineering, IT, and communication systems. For example, the demand for three key SOM occupations has greatly increased over the last 5 years--Network systems and data communications analysts, Dispatchers, and Signal and track switch repairers. As noted in TRB Special Report 275 (2003), it is critical for transportation agencies to recruit and retain a workforce with a wider range of technical disciplines such as System Operations and Management. Many participants in this research remarked on the value of a diverse background in the transportation organization that would help the SOM staff person "see how all the pieces fit together" and then operate better, through SOM. Others commented on the importance of communication and collaboration skills for employees within SOM and indicated that finding engineering applicants with these skills is a challenge; these skills are primarily developed through experiences and cross-training in diverse fields. Other participants suggested that the training offered to students is too broad and that entry-level applicants frequently lack key, specialized SOM skills, including intelligent transportation systems (ITS), traffic engineering, maintenance, emergency response and incident management, performance measurement, and system planning (Spy Pond Partners et al., 2009). As learned from NCHRP Project 20-77, an understanding of the interactions among transportation modes and between the transportation system and other functions, such as emergency management, public safety, and the concerns of the general public, is critical for a job within SOM. Extensive knowledge of statistics and experience in data management and analysis lay the foundation for the skill set necessary for an occupation in SOM. Skills needed to improve productivity and quality of operations, such as quality assurance, forecasting, planning and scheduling, staffing, design and control of operations systems, creating value for the customer, project management, and supply chain and inventory management, continue to build the skill set needed of SOM staff. Initiatives such as those at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) highlight the increased reliance on technology to operate more effectively, as their ITS program adopted a formal communications procedure. ITS technologies, which involve the convergence of communication, computing sensing, and control technologies, focus on achieving operational improvements through services such as freeway and incident management, traveler information, and road weather information (TRB, 2003). The emergence of ITS technologies has influenced not only what transportation agencies do but how they plan and conduct projects, as "the use of ITS to operate and manage transportation systems creates a whole new operating environment for transportation agencies and increases the demand for people who understand and operate these technologies" (TRB, 2003, p. 39). The regional architecture system PennDOT developed allows transportation system managers, operators, emergency services providers, local officials, and information service providers to communicate more efficiently with one another and respond 146
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more quickly and appropriately to congestion or emergency situations (PennDOT, 2007). Similarly, transportation agencies are increasing their reliance on the media and technology to communicate incident information to the public. As SOM jobs move away from requiring more traditional engineering expertise to depending more heavily on an array of technical and interpersonal competencies, a deeper understanding of information technology systems, and business communications expertise, it would be wise for DOTs to broaden their scope when defining the SOM workforce pipeline. Specifically, DOTs could conduct a more thorough search of diverse educational programs to fill SOM jobs. In fact, our findings indicate that educational programs such as Computer Science, Computer Systems Analysis, Public Administration, and Management Information Systems and Services produce highly skilled candidates but these programs are widely untapped for SOM employment. In addition to reshaping how DOTs think about recruitment for SOM, these operational shifts require new moving targets for DOT SOM training. DOTs are particularly in need of support and further research to compile and develop the resources to support ongoing staff education; interviewees indicated that the curricula used at many universities and colleges do not address or engage SOM skills at all. To better support SOM capacity and staff development at DOTs and regional agencies, research is needed in a number of areas: Brand SOM through research in the cost effectiveness of investments in SOM compared to traditional capacity construction. Garnering support for personnel development within SOM is often linked to understanding the value of SOM for the organization and maximal efficiency of the transportation network. Participants shared the belief that the public is grossly unaware of SOM and its contributions, much less its potential. DOTs are looking to others, such as universities and researchers, to generate this information, even as DOTs realize they need to boost their own communication and outreach at the state (legislature and governor) level. Public awareness is critical because the public is the ultimate consumer of transportation and source for the future workforce. Thus, it is critical that the worth of the investment in SOM and the branding of SOM be a central focus for DOTs especially as the industry faces increasing changes. Identify how DOTs can nurture and invest in operations and traffic management skills in-house. DOTs expressed concerns about the contracting out of work and knowledge that the DOT needs to manage the larger system. When contractor turnover occurs or services are not available in their region, the DOT's responsibilities and the increasing demand for SOM knowledge and maintenance remains. The majority of work contracted out occurs in the more specialized positions, including ITS Maintenance, Control Room Managers and Operators, Incident Response, Traffic Control, and Electronic Technicians, where NCHRP 20-86 research participants indicated their DOT often lacked employees with the necessary technical skills. DOTs need to extend themselves and creatively leverage the technological abilities of their employees more than ever before. To do this work and maintain and expand this creativity, DOTs will need to nurture and more heavily invest in operations and traffic management skills in-house. Furthermore, successful maximum utilization of private sector resources requires investment in knowledgeable staff to oversee, manage, and call for private sector work. The unique demands of the jobs and the lack of available, tailored training led many participants to believe that DOTs will begin cultivating and using more in-house capabilities. 147
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Participants forecast diminishing reliance on contractors in some cases and more reliance on hiring and training new employees, both to improve internal capacity and to reduce the vulnerability to transportation operations of not having the ability to perform certain key job functions. It is critical that DOTs address these needs in order to create a talent pipeline full of qualified applicants ready to move into SOM positions because SOM experts will be increasingly in demand. Interview participants in this study indicated that, as a result of new technologies, there is a greater need for employees knowledgeable in ITS with skills in GIS, critical thinking, document management, and systems management. In fact, participants anticipated the greatest gaps among SOM skill sets to be computer-related. An increase in computer literacy is imperative for SOM employees as the ability to use and manage the DOT's computerized systems becomes more important. Innovation and creativity were additional skills that participants suggested would be valuable to the workforce. Increase innovation and align incentives to support advancement at DOTs. DOTs will also need to partner with others, increase innovation, and align incentives to support advancement and manage Intellectual Property (IP). As more complex operating systems gain momentum in the transportation industry, more technologically savvy systems operators and managers are needed. This is particularly evident within the SOM workforce where new technology and the complex relationships for personnel working across different modes, disciplines, and with differing stakeholder groups require a unique set of skills. Caltrans-based research shows that seven major actions can help the process of innovation: (1) establish clear direction and procedures for the innovation process, (2) improve communications, (3) secure executive sponsorship and management support, (4) empower employees and find champions for each innovation, (5) create incentives for innovators, (6) demonstrate the benefits of innovation, and (7) manage risk and change. Finally, the research showed that "resistance to change" and "lack of political will" are among the most serious barriers to innovation. Managing risk and change is critical for the success of innovation; in the public sector, most failures are highly publicized and criticized. Therefore, creating the ability to take calculated, reasonable risks is required at public agencies. In another study conducted by Minnesota DOT, success factors found to encourage a culture of innovation were maintaining customer orientation, implementing internal communications, establishing criteria to evaluate innovations, identifying champions of innovation, conducting regular self-evaluations and performance measurement, and balancing risk and change (Minnesota DOT, 2010). This Mn/DOT study also identified a subset of programs within state DOTs that supported innovation such as Arizona DOT's Partnering Office and Louisiana DOTD's Quality and Continuous Improvement Program teams. DOT SOM would benefit from further investigation into how innovation is being fostered and supported in other transportation agencies, including research on lessons learned from existing DOT Operations Innovation Programs. It would also serve DOT SOM well to conduct research into specific tools and techniques used by transportation agencies to facilitate innovation such as performance metrics, ROI instruments, and workforce development programs. Protect Intellectual Property (IP) relating to SOM. Information and knowledge are the driving force behind today's economy and, increasingly, transportation systems as well, yet 148
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most DOT research programs are not evaluating the IP value or realizing the full potential of their investments. Both the private and public sectors are seeking more innovative solutions to transportation and transportation-related issues. With creativity and innovation becoming more paramount in the evolution, so too is the industry's responsibility for managing IP in creative ways, and properly identifying, protecting, and commercializing it. This creates many new challenges to entities and individuals who are not fully prepared or equipped to tackle such challenges. Addressing these challenges would improve the industry's ability to become more nimble and innovative and to modernize its commercialization strategies, methods, and techniques by creating more efficient methods to identify, protect, productize, and commercialize innovative products and services. One of the biggest challenges that DOTs must overcome to improve the management of IP is creating organizational awareness of what IP is, what qualifies for protection under IP law, and how to preserve investments in innovation at third- party institutions. DOTs and the research they fund generate a tremendous amount of IP through state and federally-based research programs. Technological developments are particularly common in the SOM and ITS fields. This, combined with recent trends--including retirements among DOTs' most knowledgeable staff, increasingly finite economic resources, the push for productivity advancements, and legal staff's limited familiarity with IP issues--suggests that managing and protecting IP rights may be one of the foremost legal challenges of tomorrow in the transportation industry, for which DOTs require research support. The IP management mechanisms and practices set forth by industries successful in managing their property rights could potentially inform, improve, and otherwise transform the IP management practices, strategies, and techniques in transportation. To improve the link between knowledge creation and knowledge application in the industry, state DOTs need to be better equipped to clearly identify their assets and their value, and be able to protect and transfer that innovation to the marketplace in a manner that one can measure the ROI by economic terms or mission terms, such as safety. IP rights need to be addressed and considered throughout the entire innovation process--from initiation and inception of research to the marketplace. Sustain/record institutional memory in SOM task areas. Ensuring that institutional memory and expertise are not lost when staff retire is an important part of succession planning. DOTs need assistance identifying practical, affordable, and effective management practices used by other transportation systems that contribute to knowledge retention. This includes identifying/developing mechanisms by which to engage staff in those workforce development practices to retain valuable intellectual capital. Celebrating careers and sharing key stories are just a few of the mechanisms to explore in greater detail. Systems for organizing, sharing, and accessing retained knowledge also need investigation. Develop training on public communication mechanisms and skills for transportation system operations. Several interview participants also indicated their transportation agencies were identifying ways to utilize new technologies in an effort to make information more manageable and available. The distribution of these messages is through radio and television outlets, dynamic message signs along the roadways, traveler information Internet sites, pager and broadcast fax alerts, and traveler information telephone numbers (FHWA, 2010). Furthermore, the installation of cameras and other traffic monitoring equipment helps 149
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supplement information provided to travelers. The emergence of complex equipment using new technology, specifically ITS and advanced electronics, requires a parallel investment in training personnel to ensure they are safely and effectively operated and maintained. The need for this type of training was commonly expressed throughout our interviews, as participants described the criticality for employees to understand the technology they use to perform their job. Without understanding the technology, employees are less able to interpret the data or understand the design of system components or other potential inter-relationships. Consequently, DOTs would benefit from research to develop a compendium of communication mechanisms and skills for transportation system operations. Develop electronic training courses particularly to help DOTs keep pace with electronic-based technologies. Transportation personnel, specifically those employed in SOM, have acknowledged that keeping pace with advanced electronic-based technologies solely through traditional on-the-job training is not sufficient (McGlothin Davis and Corporate Strategies, 2002). To address this need, many traditional classroom-based activities have moved to web-based versions, which can make it easier for more personnel to take the training courses. Further, the advent of sophisticated simulators allows for presentation of realistic job previews and training through interactive online media for complex positions, such as those in transportation SOM. With economic pressures, DOTs are likely to need to increasingly rely on these methods, but DOTs need to know how to expeditiously find what is available. Thus, DOTs could use supporting research to compile this information. Identify existing SOM training resources that DOTs have developed and further develop resources for "virtual exposure" to working conditions in various SOM positions as well as basic training for core SOM positions. Given today's budget environment, research focused on cost-efficient and easily implementable steps that DOTs can take to increase operational capacity and preparation for the future is probably highly desirable. Research should involve collection of existing resources that DOTs have developed, further interviews with DOT SOM managers and practice leaders in particular position/skill areas, and if possible, collection of training resources developed by community and four-year colleges. In particular, research is needed on how coordination, networking, and joint research with other agencies, organizations, and even the private sector, can be increased. Identify the necessary components and resources that could be tapped to develop an Operations and Management Training Academy. There are several SOM competencies for which training tends to be completely lacking (e.g., comprehensive-level special event management, overview-level electronic payment systems) and many other SOM competencies for which there is very little or inadequate training (e.g., intermediate-level arterial operations, all levels of automated safety enforcement). Therefore, there is a critical need for SOM training, particularly given Baby Boomer retirements, increasing expectations for transportation capacity enhancements via implementation of new and evolving SOM technologies and practices, a potential workforce with insufficient skills, and the ever- increasing demand for SOM services. The need for formal SOM training programs-- specifically in terms of communicating with the public, understanding the policy side, and understanding and operating new technologies--was accentuated throughout our NCHRP 20-86 interviews, because leading practitioners and managers observed gaps among the 150
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desirable experiences and skill levels of SOM personnel and the existing knowledge and skills of those employees entering the field. Given the near pre-requisite of cross-training in multiple areas of the DOT before assuming a leadership role in SOM and the value of transportation experience for all SOM staff, participants almost unanimously agreed that more formal training is needed once an employee enters an organization, regardless of the training students obtain in college. Almost every interview participant representing a DOT on the West Coast indicated a need to create an operations training academy, similar to the University of Maryland Operations Academy, in their region of the country or, alternatively, a web-based SOM training academy program. Additionally, participants discussed a shared need for DOT-level training, since it is critical that SOM personnel understand the infrastructure, operations, and stakeholders at the agency level. By and large, participants felt that such training could be developed or would be in existence and already available, were funding sufficient. They did comment that there has been an increase in the amount of webinars conducted for training and outreach with their DOTs, especially welcome given the difficulty of funding out-of-state travel for staff development. Develop a compendium of resources and exchange mechanisms to share further mentoring resources among state DOTs. Mentoring programs are a valuable way to support and educate new employees on the expectations and requirements of SOM jobs. DOTs could benefit from research that explores the types of mentoring programs maintained across transportation agencies. For example, California, Idaho, and New Jersey all have strong mentoring programs. Information that could be collected and shared includes reviews of program expectations and activities for mentees, resources identifying situations where seeking assistance from a mentor would be appropriate, resources identifying situations where seeking assistance from a mentor would not be appropriate, tools for building a relationship with a mentor, and other general advice for mentees. Also needed are mentor training and organization resources, including how to set up training and skill development, basic mentoring skills, effective interpersonal and communication skills related to coaching and providing feedback, the mentor's role in helping the mentee set and achieve developmental goals, and how to be an effective mentor. Create knowledge management research and resources for DOTs. In addition to the type of knowledge transfer that comes from mentoring, agencies should create people-focused knowledge management systems that promote knowledge sharing among employees. One possible technique to capture this critical knowledge involves interviewing senior leaders about their position and work functions. This includes collecting information on the cognitive processes that may go into making decisions as well as the rationale behind specific procedures and task performance. These interviews will help ensure that institutional memory and expertise are not lost when senior staff retire. It would also gather and develop case studies to portray best practices/key projects. Communities of practice could also be developed and participation encouraged, as another aspect of the knowledge management system, to foster methods for building knowledge networks to capture tacit knowledge and develop better documentation processes. Make Realistic Job Previews a practical option for DOTs. Realistic Job Previews (RJPs) are an effective tool for ensuring that agencies are cost effective in their hiring. In a challenging economy, DOTs can greatly benefit from low-cost tools that help filter through 151
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those applicants, find the best fit, and save time for the agency. RJPs help filter employees who would not be a good "fit" for the job requirements and organizational culture by presenting candidates with an accurate picture of the perks and challenges of the job. More information is needed to make RJPs practical for DOTs. Research is needed on costs and obtaining the funding to develop and implement a virtual pre-employment RJP and assessment. Research is also needed on the time and labor commitment from HR and subject matter experts (SMEs), as well as incumbents, to develop a tool that is realistic, fair, and predictive of actual performance on the job. DOTs could use an array of sample prices and services to evaluate the practicality of this approach and pre-development of requirements DOTs would need to have outlined in order to contract for such tools. Research could help with identifying and interviewing SMEs, assembling job analyses and performance modeling, reviewing job descriptions, and conducting site visits and focus groups. All of this can provide information about the job to be presented in the RJP and help determine the format of the desired output. Conduct research on DOTs' use of social media. Some DOTs are starting to use social media but most may not know where to begin in implementing this tool into their recruitment activities and daily workforce management approach. Thus, it would be helpful for these DOTs to have an overview of what other DOTs are doing with regards to social media and case studies that address how and why they are doing it, lessons learned, and explicit instructions. One possible case example is the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), which decided to enhance their recruitment efforts through the use of a variety of social media applications, including Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube. Their HR department decided to interview several employees, asking them about their experience working for the DOT, their favorite parts of their job, and some of the challenges they deal with on a day-to-day basis. These employee interviews were recorded on video and uploaded to YouTube when a similar position to the one described became open. Their use of Web 2.0 and other media outlets allowed them to reach different audiences, at a minimal cost. Furthermore, it significantly improved their recruitment rates. Agencies may, for example, videotape employees performing their job or interview them about their job, and post them on Facebook. The visual-interactive aspect and opportunity to present the agency and the job all have the potential to boost recruiting. An additional segment could be recorded that emphasizes "fit" and encourages more self-filtering and thus time-savings for the DOT, and could be used during times when applicants are plentiful. 152