By Robbie Webber
Attracting and retaining talented staff at state DOTs has been on the minds of many transportation leaders, as noted in a recent AASHTO Journal article. It was also a topic at the July SSTI Community of Practice meeting and will be the topic of our webinar next week on September 5. Each state has slightly different challenges, but many are concerned with staff having the appropriate skills for the work they need to do. Retaining talented staff and sharing institutional knowledge as retirements loom is also a common theme.
Both Matthew Garrett, Director of the Oregon DOT, and Roger Millar, Secretary of Transportation in Washington state, have spoken about the need to hire and retain a new type of DOT worker. Garrett is especially concerned with finding well-rounded staff with a multitude of skills, particularly in the face of new technologies and data needs. The private sector is on top of this, and DOTs often compete for the same workers. Facing these changes, Garret commented in July, “…it also demands that we must adapt and support a culture that’s reimagining our work structure and learning platforms, that’s moving to continual education training and retraining across all portfolios within a state DOT.”
At the same meeting, Millar spoke about WSDOT’s twin challenges of losing skills through retirement and competing with a private sector that offers far higher salaries in Seattle: “approximately half of [the WSDOT workforce] are eligible to retire today and the higher you go up the food chain, the more eligible they are to retire.” Some ways for state agencies to compete on benefits and continued training.
Former Colorado DOT CEO Shailen Bhatt added a positive note, pointing out that the transportation field is no longer seen as stodgy to young workers. This should help attract a diverse and talented pool of candidates that DOTs will need in the future.
While West Coast DOTs in Oregon and Washington face competition and retirement among the professional ranks, Tennessee’s DOT commissioner has been more concerned with finding and retaining good entry level workers. He has worked to keep TDOT competitive with the private sector and flexible in the opportunities it provides its workers, even as many state agencies are under pressure to cut budgets. This will be the subject of our webinar on September 5.
Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.