The National Academies

NCHRP 20-07/Task 408 [Pending]

Transportation System Management and Operations (TSMO) Workforce: Skills, Positions, Recruitment, Retention, and Career Development
[ NCHRP 20-07 (Research for AASHTO Standing Committee on Highways) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $199,000
Contract Time: 15 months
Staff Responsibility: Andrew C. Lemer


While precise definitions vary among practitioners, “transportation system management and operations” (TSM&O, or simply TSMO) comprises generally a collection of technologies, services, and operating strategies aimed at delivering reliable, safe, and efficient transportation and timely information to travelers and shippers to enable them to make informed decisions to minimize their unexpected delay and improve the safety of their travel. As an area of professional practice, TSMO is a multifaceted approach to maintaining and improving the capacity, security, safety, and reliability of our multimodal transportation system. TSMO practice has increased in scope and prominence as practitioners have developed and adapted increasingly sophisticated ways of applying electronics, communication, information management, and data analytics technologies to enhance the capabilities and performance of our transportation infrastructure. State departments of transportation (DOTs) and other agencies responsible for that infrastructure face growing needs for a fully competent workforce to provide TSMO technical and managerial expertise as staff members and consultants. Recruiting and developing such expertise is complicated by generational shifts within the larger professional and technical workforce and the rapid pace of technological innovation as well as by the particular challenges government agencies face in a competitive labor market.

The National Operations Center of Excellence (NOCoE) was organized as a partnership of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), and the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA), with support from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The partnership works to provide resources and services to support the TSMO professional community.

In June of 2016, NOCoE hosted a 2-day summit on TSMO workforce development, bringing together a diverse group of practitioners, agency managers, human resource (HR) specialists, professional education and training specialists, and professional service providers. The summit’s goal was to identify viable actions to encourage and influence development of resources to support rapid evolution of the TSMO workforce. (See http://www.transportationops.org/publications/nocoe-2016-workforce-summit-proceedings-and-implementation-plan.) The workshop discussions highlighted a range of issues that agencies face in developing and maintaining their TSMO capabilities and identified high-priority actions to begin addressing these issues:

• Convene a forum to engage TSMO agencies, private-sector firms, and educators in discussion to characterize needs and solutions for pre-employment TSMO professional education
• Establish a repository of existing TSMO-related education resources at U.S. post-secondary educational institutions
• Develop or assemble model TSMO position descriptions (PDs) for entry-level and advanced positions
• Develop or assemble statements of TSMO knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA) or professional technical qualifications (PTQ) to characterize TSMO entry-level and advanced technical, supervisory, and leadership positions and assess gaps between these and available education and training resources
• Describe model TSMO training programs for onboarding new hires, engaging professionals entering from other practice areas, and enhancing effectiveness in career development
• Describe strategy to enhance TSMO visibility as a core area of professional practice
• Document current exemplary TSMO workforce recruitment
• Document current exemplary TSMO workforce retention and professional development practices of public and private entities

 NOCoE, AASHTO, and others in the professional community have initiated research and development work to address a number of these high-priority actions and advance TSMO professional practices. Further effort is needed.


The objective of this research is to build on prior and current activities of NOCoE, AASHTO, and others to produce resources and guidance—for DOTs and others (such as educational institutions, consultants)—for development of TSMO capabilities in four specific areas: (1) model position descriptions (PDs) for describing DOT staff at entry-level and advanced levels of TSMO responsibilities, (2) KSA or PTQ statements characterizing TSMO entry-level and advanced technical and management positions, (3) guidance on effective and exemplary practices for recruitment of TSMO personnel, and (4) guidance on effective and exemplary practices for professional development and retention of TSMO staff.

As envisioned for this project, guidance should consider likely technology, workforce, and transportation policy developments within the next 5 to 15 years. The guidance should be helpful to agencies that employ TSMO professionals and to organizations that educate and train such professionals and support their career development. The guidance should be adaptable to suit the variety of employment regimes (for example, union, right-to-work, and at-will employment; public- and private-sectors) that exist across the nation.


The research should produce at least the following products:

1. Kickoff web conference engaging research-team and NCHRP project-panel members to discuss the research objective, project work plan, and expectations regarding research products.

Note: Proposers should plan that the kickoff web conference of approximately 90 minutes duration will be scheduled at a mutually agreeable time following the contractor’s receipt of authorization to proceed; NCHRP staff will make arrangements for the meeting.

2. Interim report 1 describing (a) existing TSMO-related post-secondary educational programs and course materials currently available and under development in U.S. institutions and (b) exemplary current practices for recruiting new entrants and supporting career advancement of TSMO professionals, within the several employment regimes where TSMO workforce development and recruitment models may be applied.

Note: All interim reports shall be delivered as electronic files in formats suitable for NCHRP review and comment. Each interim report shall be produced as a draft for review and a revised version addressing NCHRP comments. NCHRP shall be allowed not less than 2 weeks for review of the interim reports. The research team shall respond to NCHRP comments on each draft interim report in preparing the final versions of the report.

3. Interim report 2 presenting representative PDs for TSMO professionals employed by a DOT or similar agency.

4. Interim report 3 presenting KSA or PTQ statements to characterize TSMO entry-level and advanced technical and supervisory and leadership positions and assessing what gaps exist between these and available education and training resources.

5. Interim report 4 presenting a strategic management framework to assist DOTs in developing recruiting and career development programs for TSMO personnel and documenting training effective and exemplary practices for recruitment, professional development, and retention of TSMO staff.

Note: NCHRP envisions that the framework will address the roles of TSMO in DOTs and TSMO practitioners within the DOT workforce, and how recruitment, professional development, and retention practices contribute to pursuit of the agency’s mission. Recruitment practices will include programs and tools used in either private or public sectors and targeting new entrants and experienced personnel with non-traditional backgrounds as well as graduates in fields more traditionally identified with transportation facilities and operations. Professional development and retention practices may include, for example, mentoring, succession planning, cross training, special assignments, individual career planning support, and compensation strategies.

6. Draft and final guidebook on developing and maintaining a DOT’s TSMO professional capabilities, presenting previously developed materials in ways to facilitate use. 

NCHRP anticipates that final versions of all interim reports will be made available through the NOCoE information portal to support that organization’s efforts to advance TSMO practice. NCHRP envisions that the guidebook will incorporate as appropriate content from the final interim reports, formatted to facilitate dissemination and use and consistent with NCHRP standards. NCHRP 

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