New partnership will help us carry the message

Richard Ridings, P.E., R.P.L.S.
APWA President

I have a friend who checks the obituary column in the morning newspaper each day to see if his name is there or if he should get up and go on in to work. Says he doesn't feel ill, just looking for a reason not to go in to work. He's really good at his job, but he's ready to retire and let someone younger and with fresh ideas take his place.

With the "baby boomers" reaching this stage in their professional lives, the transportation community is facing a massive shortage of personnel in the next few years. Somebody needs to do something about it!

Those of us who work in the public works field know that there is nothing more critical to our security, economic well-being, and quality of life than an efficient, effective and safe transportation system. If we are to maintain a strong transportation system, we must depend on having a committed and diverse workforce of men and women in public agencies and the private sector who have the skills and knowledge to keep us moving.

This is particularly true now since a large number of skilled workers are retiring at a time when advancing technologies and more complex institutional relationships require new skills for all employees, especially those working across different modes, disciplines, and stakeholder groups. Now, more than ever, recruiting, developing, and retraining a skilled transportation workforce poses significant challenges to all of us in the transportation and education communities.

Well, someone is doing something about it. On May 8, 2002, I met with Mary Peters (FHWA Administrator) and her key staff along with APWA Board Member Marshall Elizer and the APWA Transportation Technical Committee to sign and renew our Partnership Agreement. On May 13, a group of transportation and education community members met to discuss this growing employee problem and to develop "A Partnership for Educating, Training, and Developing the Nation's Transportation Workforce." Recognizing the challenges to developing the transportation workforce, the group also put forth the benefits that will result from leading a coordinated and concerted effort to address them.

The major thrusts of the Partnership are threefold:

  1. To provide, within our own agencies and organizations, a focus on implementing programs and policies that will assure the development, support and management of an efficient and effective workforce;

  2. Support partnership efforts in the transportation and education communities that will help build young people's interest in transportation careers, and will support continuing education, training and professional development opportunities for today's and tomorrow's workers; and

  3. Promote a greater understanding that an efficient, well-trained workforce is critical to developing, operating, and managing our transportation system, and vital to our security, economic growth, and quality of life.
APWA will be a key player in this Partnership. We must be. We have too much at stake to allow our agencies to ignore the growing need to replace retiring workers, and even more importantly, to provide the most current technology and training for our existing workforce. Many of our agencies do not have computer access available to all the staff. In this critical time, how can we ignore the need for modernization and training? I don't think we can or should.

When you get up tomorrow morning, think how exciting it could be to develop a recruiting and training program in your department at work. Get excited about sharing the joys of the work you perform. Find ways to interest young professionals in the field of public works. Be sure they know there are so many avenues open to them in such a broad field. The public works department is the basic fiber for keeping our communities functioning. Be certain your residents know that. You must carry the message.

Find the facts to assist in your discussion at, under Government Affairs. Also, you should request an APWA Presidential Appointment to the Legislative Advocacy Task Force and become an advocate for sound legislative improvements and increased funding for our roadway system.

We now have a copy of the latest Transportation Infrastructure Facts located on the APWA website under Government Affairs. Also, you will find a recent copy of a Powerpoint presentation made on May 8 in Washington, D.C. The summary of that program is that we have avoided over 100,000 deaths per year on our highway system since the 1960s. We were able to achieve this result by designing safe interstate and major highway systems to replace our substandard and dangerous highway systems of the pre-1960s. Our next challenge is to further reduce roadway deaths as our economy and population increase.