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Public Roads - Winter 2020

Winter 2020
Issue No:
Vol. 83 No. 4
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Innovation Corner

From the Center for Transportation Workforce Development: A Vision to Meet Workforce Demands

by Maria Romstedt
Karen Bobo, director of the Center for Transportation Workforce Development, is inside a historic toll plaza office during a visit to the I–74 Mississippi River Bridge project.

The number of projected job openings in transportation fields continues to outpace the number of people completing transportation-related education and training programs, and a shortage of skilled workers presents a growing concern for the industry.

When Karen Bobo became the director of the Center for Transportation Workforce Development (CTWD) within the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Innovative Program Delivery (OIPD) in May 2019, she knew the workforce challenges she would be facing. Over her 29–year career with FHWA, Bobo has been involved in recruitment and mentoring. "As a participant in the Highway Engineer Training Program and then as the program coordinator, I was coaching and mentoring from the very beginning of my career," says Bobo.

Bobo has held positions in several FHWA division offices, the Office of Federal Lands Highway, and the Office of Human Resources. "Every job I've had, I have stayed involved in recruitment, coaching peers and students, and talking to the industry," she says.

Bobo and her team are defining CTWD's plans to deliver initiatives that build awareness of transportation careers and improve the development, capability, and diversity of the Nation's transportation workforce. From primary school to professional development, the center provides program support, technical assistance, and workforce development activities in partnership with Federal, State, and local partners; industry organizations; and education providers.

Tapping Untapped Potential

Women, African Americans, and Native Americans have been historically underrepresented in the U.S. transportation industry. Because of the potential for growth, many CTWD programs emphasize reaching these groups.

One example is the Garrett A. Morgan Technology and Transportation Education Program. CTWD aims to transform the program, which provides grants to State and local education agencies to develop and deliver K–12 transportation-related curricula with an emphasis on underrepresented groups.

"We're doing a lot of planning and looking at how we can integrate the Garrett Morgan program into other workforce development efforts," Bobo says. "Our goal is to reinvigorate it and ensure it is doing what it is designed to do."

Bobo's vision is to integrate workforce development into education, especially middle school through adult practitioners. That means educating students as well as school professionals on transportation career opportunities. CTWD will also work with the U.S. Department of Education to identify collaboration opportunities.

Drawing on Partnerships

Partnerships are a cornerstone for reaching CTWD's goals. The center's approach to partnerships includes improving collaboration with the other centers in OIPD, State departments of transportation, national transportation organizations, and other Federal agencies.

One of the center's goals is to expand the Highway Construction Workforce Pilot, which included 12 partners. The program will now be called the Highway Construction Workforce Partnership. The partnership program aims to establish relationships between highway construction contractors in need of key skill sets (the demand) and the workforce system that identifies qualified applicants (the supply).

"We're working to make sure the partnership program meets the needs of all organizations through webinars, educational pieces, and peer exchanges," says Bobo. "We're aiming to expand from the 12 pilot partners to having a partnership in all States."

"If we don't have workers, infrastructure projects won't get completed," she says. "Infrastructure will fail to meet the demands of travelers, and our transportation network will no longer serve the public. We're working hard to make sure that possibility does not become a reality."

Maria Romstedt is the Publication Manager at FHWA's Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center and serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Public Roads.