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The TRB report, The Workforce Challenge, released June 30, says that as many as half of transportation agencies' senior staffers will retire over the next 10 years, more than twice the rate for all U.S. workers. That problem is made heightened at agencies that have had to cut staff or reduce hiring because of budget directives. Compounding the situation, the agencies now oversee a wide range of transportation modes, not just their original mandate of building roads.

"Although any one of these issues would be of concern individually, in combination they suggest an impending crisis, which--with foresight and intervention--may be averted," says the report.

The study recommends stepping up spending on training, which now is much less than the 2% of salaries that it says top organizations devote to that task. To achieve that goal, the TRB panel supports the U.S. Dept. of Transportation's proposal to expand funds available for training by 200%. That provision is part of the Bush administration's "SAFETEA" surface transportation reauthorization bill.

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Although some state and local agencies spend more than the 2% target to training, in 2001 as a group they spent only $9 million of the $38 million in federal aid that can be used for training and workforce development, the report says.

The TRB study also calls on U.S. DOT to launch a program of "innovation in human resource practices," covering recruiting, training, and retaining workers and planning for management succession.

In addition, the report says state and local transportation agencies should elevate the role of their human resources departments to become "a key strategic function" within their hierarchies.

Ken Kobetsky, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' program director for engineering, says the TRB report appears to be on the mark. "It's an issue that we've been dealing with a goodly number of years," he says. He notes that for more than a decade AASHTO has had a program to encourage high schoolers to go into the transportation field. "We've got 29 states that now support the program."

Kobetsky also says that many now-senior DOT managers began work in the early 1960s when construction of the Interstate Highway System was taking off.

Then, in the 1980s when the Interstate neared completion, a recession hit, causing agencies to reduce staff or hold back on hiring. As a result, "We have a big gap" in state DOTs, between those in their 30s and those in their 50s, Kobetsky says.

Regarding the level of state DOT spending on training, Kobetsky notes that total transportation funding is limited and "you have got to spend the money were your greatest needs are…The bottom line is there are more needs than there [is] money."

workforce "crisis" is looming for state departments of transportation and local transit authorities, with half of their top managers slated to retire in the next decade as agencies expand their scope but cut budgets, a Transportation Research Board panel's study says.