State DOTs must plan for the multigenerational workforce of the future


In a time of change, it’s difficult to think about how an organization needs to evolve to continue to be successful. There are plenty of examples of private-sector companies that could not adapt their business, products and services to changing needs, including Netscape Navigator, Palm, Gateway and Blockbuster. Adaptation for a private company is about survival; for a government entity it’s about relevance and public trust.

State DOTs are characteristically slow to adapt to change. Change created by tech-enabled transportation is going to affect not only how work is done, but also what the focus of the work will be and who the future employees of state agencies will be. State transportation agencies have plenty of employees trained to build highway capacity projects and few workers with the skills necessary to analyze data, evaluate supply chains, estimate economic outcomes, target cost-effective project solutions, manage highways in real time and integrate intermodal systems.

Transportation agencies are plagued by being data-rich and information-poor. With new data about to pour in, the right skills are needed to turn it into information for operations and decision making. Workers will need the tools and skills to communicate and collaborate to get work done, leading to an increased focus on the upskilling and training of current staff.

Another challenge that DOTs can expect is high levels of turnover due to an aging workforce (baby boomers). There is a need to be prepared for the next generation of workers – millennials, a technology driven, data consuming, digital group of thinkers looking to accomplish work with a swipe of a finger. As this new millennial generation enters and grows its presence in the workforce, how can DOTs blend their multigenerational workforce’s motivations, perspectives, communication styles, skills and knowledge?

Colorado DOT (CDOT) is taking a unique approach to planning for the workforce of the future. The department is engaging PwC, a top human resource firm, to evaluate its employee structure – job descriptions, locations and skill composition – and develop alternative workforce skill scenarios for the future. The scenarios will incorporate how DOT business could shift over the next decade, and what the workforce composition will need to be to respond to 2025 targets. Will CDOT need minor shifts in workforce skills, or will there need to be major new skills such as data scientists, economists, operations research analysts, system integrators, communications engineers and logisticians? And how can all this change be addressed through natural attrition, without increasing the amount of government resources?

State DOTs are facing their biggest mission challenge since the Interstate Highway Program in the 1950s. Increasingly, rapid technological change is about to affect transportation in the same way it has changed other industries, such as finance, retail and the media. Connectivity, big data and automation will bring new efficiencies to transportation – if state DOTs can envision the potential benefits they will unlock. While the future is an unknown, it is organizations that can find the common threads leading to the future that will best serve their residents and customers.

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