TRANSIT WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT: Improved Strategic Planning Practices Could Enhance FTA Efforts

The nation’s transit agencies are having a hard time finding the qualified workers and managers needed to keep buses, trains, and ferries moving. To address this, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently issued a report finding that
current federal projections of future workforce needs either don’t include or aren’t specific to the transit workforce and the Federal Transit Administration’s strategic planning could be more effective in assisting transit agencies with workforce issues

The GAO made 3 recommendations, including that FTA consider whether more specific workforce projections would be worthwhile and develop a strategy to address future workforce needs.

  • The FTA Administrator should determine, in collaboration with transit stakeholders, whether additional transit workforce data are needed to identify potential future occupational shortages in the transit industry and whether the benefits of this collection would outweigh the cost of gathering it. 
  • The FTA Administrator should develop and document a strategy that outlines how FTA will help address future transit workforce needs. 
  • The FTA Administrator should develop and document clearly defined performance goals and measures for its transit workforce development efforts.

While FTA assists transit stakeholders with addressing workforce needs—for example, providing about $29 million in workforce development assistance in fiscal year 2017—it lacks key strategic planning practices that could ensure its efforts are effective. FTA first reported to Congress in 2016 that it planned to develop a transit workforce strategic plan; however, no clear action has been taken to develop one so far. Further, FTA does not have clearly defined performance goals and measures—as outlined in the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA) and the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010—for FTA’s transit workforce development efforts. Without these key strategic planning practices, FTA is limited in its ability to make informed decisions about effectively leveraging its resources to address future transit workforce needs and in measuring the effectiveness of its efforts.

FTA provides more than $12 billion annually to support and expand transit services. The operation of transit systems depends on a skilled, qualified workforce, but impending transit worker retirements and advances in transit technology may create challenges for the transit workforce such as finding eligible applicants for transit jobs and obtaining the technology expertise needed.

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