State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) transit offices are faced with emerging, critical program management challenges: managing adequate staffing, increasing regulatory burdens and incongruous internal and external business practices. In addition to these challenges, the role of technology, differing generational expectations, and the time required for DOTs to adapt to change, makes it difficult for DOTs to attract and retain talented employees.
Previously supported NCHRP research suggests that while state DOTs are seeking more efficient and effective methods to manage transit office programs, the availability of a readily available, qualified work force is the essential component in transit office program management. Research has shown that most states are not sufficiently staffed with qualified employees to appropriately manage the increasing federal transit program compliance and reporting requirements, which are at the heart of each transit office’s core responsibilities. There are three factors that further complicate this issue:
1. A need for more qualified staff through effective and timely staff training resources,
2. A work environment that understands, and is responsive to, the needs and expectations of a younger workforce, and
3. A growing exit rate of experienced staff into retirement.
For many states, these three factors are exacerbated because opportunities to hire new staff are limited. If state DOTs continue to have difficulty attracting and maintaining adequate staff for transit positions, many may be headed for a capability crisis leading to diminished capacity to administer the federal and state program requirements and deliver necessary technical assistance.
There is a need for a more structured approach to facing the challenges referenced above. Traditionally, enhancing the capabilities of people within the organization is one of the most frequently suggested responses to the challenges. This is understandable because employees are a key determinant of an organization’s success. However, the discussions need to move beyond DOTs hiring and training their way out of these problems. There needs to be more flexibility in the DOT organizational structure and effective internal business processes to increase internal efficiencies to succeed in meeting areas of responsibility.
Capacity building can provide options for enhancing the responsiveness of the transit office (organizational unit) and increase the capabilities of people within the unit. Increased knowledge, improved skill sets and aptitude combined with focusing on developing more efficient and effective ways of accomplishing the work responsibilities can lead to even more positive results (e.g. increased job satisfaction and reduced stress and ultimately, increased efficiency and improved productivity).