SCRC spotlight on the Kansas Road Scholar Program

David Barr
Director, National Rural Transit Assistance Program
APWA Washington, D.C. Office

Public works agencies, like other industries, have an ever-present need for high-quality training and technical assistance for employees. This is especially true for smaller and rural community agencies that are already facing tightening budgets and limited staff. In Kansas, the Road Scholar Program is a great example of a collaborative effort to address these challenges and establish a well-trained network of public works professionals.

A play on the Rhodes Scholarship for study at Oxford University, the Kansas Road Scholar Program was originally developed by the Kansas County Highway Association and the Kansas Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) in cooperation with the Kansas Association of Counties and the Kansas Department of Transportation. The program provides training relative to what all counties in Kansas are responsible for maintaining: roads and bridges. The program recently expanded to include APWA involvement and in the near future will also include state employees.

Open to all Kansas public works employees, the Road Scholar Program provides training to increase knowledge of road maintenance procedures and improve technical, supervisory and managerial skills. By enhancing skills and knowledge of operators and current or aspiring managers, the Road Scholar Program is working to promote a skilled workforce for Kansas public works agencies.

Many smaller communities face the challenge of affordability of classes and finding time to send people to the training. The Road Scholar Program addresses these issues by keeping enrollment fees affordable; by making the same classes available on a cycle in various locations around the state with a one-day agenda that allows the majority of participants to travel to the training without an overnight stay, keeping travel costs at a minimum; and by offering the majority of classes during winter, the off-peak time of work in Kansas.

Training is provided by the Kansas LTAP, the Kansas Association of Counties, members of APWA, and the Kansas Department of Transportation. There is a one-time administrative fee of $35.00 for each level of the program to assist Kansas LTAP to monitor the progress of program participants. Individual class registration fees can range from free to $100. Classes are offered on an ongoing basis all across the state on a two-year rotation to allow those in remote locations the same opportunities as someone in a more populated part of the state at the same cost.

The Program offers three levels of training:

  • Level I - Technical Skills strives to enhance the knowledge of general public works maintenance and construction methods, safety practices and local government organization. Courses include: Culverts, Drainage and Levee Maintenance, Risk and Liability Issues, Work Zone and Traffic Control Safety, Snow and Ice Control, Road Maintenance, and Government 101 for both cities and counties.

  • Level II - Supervisory Skills strives to develop supervisory skills for persons engaged in public works maintenance and construction activities. Courses include Fundamentals of Supervision, Legal Aspects of Supervision, Coaching and Positive Discipline, Enhancing Cooperative Work Relationships, and Problem Solving for Effective Supervision.

  • Level III - Executive Development strives to enhance management and administrative skills for those who are appointed or aspire to be appointed as county highway administrator, county or city engineer, or public works director. Courses include: Fundamentals of Leadership, Basics in Budgeting, Finance and Reporting, Project Planning and Management, Local/State Project Coordination, and Overview of Engineering Functions in Public Works.

And the program works. Since 2001 approximately 250 individuals from 45 counties have participated in the program. Currently there are 159 students enrolled in Level I of the program, 81 students enrolled in Level II and 19 students enrolled in Level III. There have been 145 graduates of Level I and 25 graduates of Level II. Since Level III is the newest level, it is anticipated the first graduates will be recognized in the spring of 2008.

  2007 Kansas Road Scholar Program graduates

It's important to note that anyone can participate in the training without enrolling in the Road Scholar certificate program; however, the Road Scholar Program certificate provides recognition that an employee has completed a set of courses identified as core competencies for technical, supervisory and executive development skills. Some local agencies in Kansas are basing raises and/or promotions on completion of the program.

"The number one challenge many public works agencies face every year is finding willing, able, and educated employees," says program participant and member of the Kansas Road Scholar Program Advisory Committee, Jeff Hancock, Director of Public Works for the City of Manhattan. "The Road Scholar Program addresses these issues by creating opportunity for investment by employees to become educated in a variety of public works issues. This education and the commitment it takes to obtain it, creates a sense of investment which in turn results in retaining well-trained employees that are willing and able to use their skills in real-world applications."

The Kansas Road Scholar Program is continuing to move forward. The overriding goal of the program is to create a statewide network of trained employees with skill sets not common to many applications other than issues that public works agencies deal with on a day-to-day basis. If the goal of the program is obtained, Kansas will have some of the most well-trained public works employees in the country; all with common training that can cross from county to city to state and possibly beyond.

To find out more about the Kansas Road Scholar Program, visit the Kansas LTAP at http://www.ksroadscholar.org. Of the 58 LTAP and TTAP (Tribal Technical Assistance Program) Centers around the country, approximately 25-30 centers have some form of Road Scholar Program. Contact your local center to find out more. For contact information in your state, visit http://www.ltapt2.org/centers/.