SAFETEA-LU Favors Industry-Wide Institutional Change

In 2003 many of the provisions included in the House and Senate versions of the transportation reauthorization bill pointed toward the need for a more comprehensive approach to fostering an industry-wide workforce. Indeed, some workforce concerns raised by leaders in the transportation industry had been resonating with legislators since 1998 when they debated the previous law, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).

Signed into law in August 2005, SAFETEA-LU authorizes Federal surface transportation programs for highways, highway safety, and transit for fiscal years (FY) 2005-2009. SAFETEA-LU provides more than $26 million annually for training and education programs, with $4.75 million for new programs for fiscal years 2006-2009. SAFETEA-LU also allows State DOTs to fund training and education through five core programs: the Surface Transportation Program (STP), Bridge Program, Interstate Maintenance Program (IM), National Highway System Program (NHS), and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ). States are not required to provide matching funds; workforce development activities can be funded with 100-percent Federal funds.

Section 5204e of SAFETEA-LU provision funding is discretionary, meaning that States can commit a portion of federally allocated core program funds to workforce development. The amount committed, however, will reduce the State's funds available for capital projects. But some States regard investing in workforce development as necessary to the success of effective capital programs and their overall transportation missions.

Section 5204(e)(3) of SAFETEA-LU defines workforce development as "activities associated with surface transportation career awareness, student transportation career preparation, and training and professional development for surface transportation workers, including activities for women and minorities."

SAFETEA-LU efforts also focus on recruiting qualified workers at various technical and professional levels throughout their careers and fostering a work environment that provides professional development and training opportunities throughout each employee's career.

The SAFETEA-LU language builds on ideas developed at the 2002 workforce summit: looking at workforce development as (1) a continuum designed to help students perceive transportation as an important and rewarding career, (2) activities to prepare students for careers in transportation through college and postgraduate programs, (3) and an ongoing effort for current employees to continue to develop their knowledge and skills as transportation professionals. Various SAFETEA-LU provisions focus on the continuum concept by funding programs to increase awareness of transportation career opportunities in elementary and middle schools, refine skills development in secondary schools and colleges, and support technical training to meet continuing professional development needs throughout an employee's transportation career.

The law also expands the focus of the following programs to enhance transportation workforce development:

Garrett A. Morgan Technology and Transportation Futures Program, SAFETEA-LU Sec. 5204(d). USDOT established this program in 1997 to generate awareness of transportation careers in elementary and secondary schools, but current provisions fund it for the first time at $1.25 million annually for FY 2006-2009. The curriculum will complement existing efforts in the private sector, including the AASHTO Transportation and Civil Engineering (TRAC) and the Associated General Contractors' Build Up! Programs.

University Transportation Centers Program (UTC), Sec. 5401. SAFETEA-LU expands the UTC program from participation at 33 universities to 60 institutions and provides a stronger connection to national research needs and transportation education. Provisions also require each UTC to establish an education program that includes multidisciplinary coursework and 5 to 10 degree programs closely related to highways and public transportation.

SAFETEA-LU also establishes new initiatives:

Transportation Education Development Pilot Program, Sec. 5204(f). SAFETEA-LU provides funds to establish a pilot program to develop training and educational curricula for all workers involved in delivering highway programs. Funding can support development of university and community college curricula for individuals coming into transportation and for current transportation employees with management, technical, and vocational job responsibilities.

Transportation Scholarship Opportunities Program, Sec. 5505. This new scholarship program authorizes Federal DOT operating administrations and nongovernmental institutions to establish scholarships and mentoring programs with nongovernmental institutions. The program is entirely discretionary, and no funding is provided; however, the framework enables the transportation industry to develop a more comprehensive scholarship program.

SAFETEA-LU also continues support for FHWA's core training and professional development programs, including the National Highway Institute, LTAP, and the Dwight David Eisenhower Transportation Fellowship Program.