The National Academies

NCHRP 20-72 [Final]

Tools to Aid State DOTs in Responding to Workforce Challenges

  Project Data
Funds: $300,000
Research Agency: Spy Pond Partners
Principal Investigator: Hyun-A Park
Effective Date: 3/1/2007
Completion Date: 2/28/2009
Comments: NCHRP supported additional work to develop a prototype web-based implementation of the toolbox.

State departments of transportation (DOTs) face ongoing but evolving challenges to maintain their ability to do the job the public expects of them. Budgetary pressures, policy mandates, changes in the workforce, introduction of new technology, and other factors require DOT leadership to reassess and sometimes reshape their organizations' mission and structure. DOT managers must then work with their human resources (HR) assets to respond to mission and structure changes. DOTs seeking to recruit, train, and retain competent, qualified, and high-performing workforces need time, skills, money, and other resources that often are in short supply.

For example, DOTs face demands that require new and greater technical and management skills and capabilities, while at the same time recruiting and retaining personnel have grown more difficult. Agency retirements are increasing as baby boomers leave the workplace; new programs, transportation technology, and workplace methods require new skills; and the public and their elected leaders have become more demanding in assessing agency performance. Furthermore, DOTs must compete for the same workforce used by local government and private organizations that may perform work for a DOT. DOT leaders and managers need tools and examples that they can use to meet such workforce challenges.

DOTs typically are responsible for (1) planning and design, (2) construction, (3) maintenance, (4) system operations and regulation, and (5) financial management. Responsibilities in these five areas may be met using agency staff, outside service providers, or some combination of the two sources of labor and expertise. The way in which a particular agency meets its mission requirements determines the specific competencies required of its workforce. This project is intended to assist agencies in assuring that their personnel have the capabilities needed to meet the agencies' critical mission requirements 5 to 10 years into the future. DOTs must be able to ensure that they have the right people in the right jobs at the right time.

The objective of this project was to produce a guide to selection and application of practical management tools that DOT leadership, managers, and HR staff can use to address workforce challenges in several key areas:
  • Characterizing and assessing core competencies of the agency's personnel, which are likely to be influenced by changing demographics, staff turnover, attrition, and competition from other employers.
  • Characterizing and assessing the need to preserve institutional history and other mission-critical knowledge held by current personnel.
  • Recruiting diverse staff to ensure needed competencies are in place to meet future demands.
  • Educating, training, and developing staff to attain needed competencies, institutional history, and other mission-critical knowledge.
  • Succession planning to ensure availability of highly competent and qualified personnel to fill key management and leadership roles at all levels of the organization.
  • Retaining staff to maintain productivity.
  • Ensuring an adequate and diverse supply of qualified entry-level personnel to meet mission-critical requirements in the future.

The tools include exemplary strategies and case-studies, measurement instruments, knowledge-transfer techniques, and organizational models. A DOT should be able to use the guide to determine which tools are likely to be useful in dealing with a particular agency's challenges and to gain access to specific information on those tools and their application. Ideally, these tools will be available in a form that can be accessed in multiple ways, to be used directly by DOT managers dealing with their specific concerns in recruitment and hiring, succession planning, training-program development, and other workforce-related initiatives.

The research entailed a review of available literature, current practices, and other sources of information to identify tools and methods usable by DOT managers to deal with the key workforce challenges cited above. The research team assessed the adequacy and value of existing tools for dealing with workforce challenges facing DOTs now and 5 to 10 years into the future and identified those tools that are most likely to be of value to DOT managers for inclusion in the guide. The team also identified gaps for which new tools may be needed and activities that could be undertaken to fill these gaps. The team developed a framework for organizing and using the guide and described an assessment and decision-making process that DOT managers could employ to identify appropriate tools to be used within their unique environments. The information is presented in a report that includes the guide and a demonstration web site designed as a "Toolkit" that managers can use to gain easy access to the information.  The demonstration site was a prototype for a more fully developed workforce toolkit that is developed and maintained by AASHTO.

PRODUCTS:  The final report has been published as NCHRP Report 636. The demonstration web site was developed and expanded into a prototype web application that is managed by the AASHTO Subcommittee on Personnel and Human Resources; that work was completed in the Fall of 2010.  The AASHTO web site may be viewed by clicking here.

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