Federal Agencies Forecast Growing Need to Find New Transportation Workers

AASHTO Journal, 28 August 2015

A new employment report from three federal departments says growth in transportation system demand is creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, while replacement of departing workers means millions of existing jobs in this sector will need to be filled as well.

The joint report from the departments of Transportation, Education and Labor found that in 2014 about 53 percent of transportation workers were 45 years or older, “which creates significant workforce development challenges” as the sector prepares for looming retirements.

It projects that from 2012 to 2022, “an additional 4.2 million transportation workers will need to be hired to fill vacancies created by separations” that include job changes, retirements and other exits from the workforce.

And it predicts that growth in the sector – which includes surface transportation industries such as highway constructing, trucking, transit, freight and passenger rail, air and maritime – would generate 417,000 new jobs for that 2012-2022 period.

In all, that means transportation systems need to hire about 4.6 million workers for the decade that began in 2012, with the highest percentages of job openings in the transit and ground passenger transportation systems.

Here is the full report.

Its analysis could actually underestimate the transportation sector’s job needs, since it does not count jobs in warehousing and logistics services that are closely tied to growth in trucking, freight rail, air cargo and intermodal port operations.

The logistics and warehousing sectors have grown rapidly in recent decades and could be poised for a new growth spurt as the larger Panama Canal locks open and usher in an era of super-sized containerships visiting more U.S. ports.

The report notes that many of the jobs are concentrated in high-density urban areas. Many pay above the national median and since transit and rail operations tend to be unionized their jobs often bring substantial benefits as well as higher pay. “Thirteen out of the top 20 highest demand transportation jobs pay above the median wage, sometimes substantially,” the agencies said in announcing the report.

However, the jobs often require skills training that many job seekers do not have.

“The level of competency and expertise required in many of these jobs is increasing with technological advances,” the report said. Although a high school diploma can be enough for many entry-level jobs, it said “training through some combination of career and technical education, apprenticeship, or on-the-job learning is required to attain mastery.”

One major area of job turnover, it notes, is among truck drivers. Owners of trucking companies often say the high turnover creates a “driver shortage,” although a number of news reports indicate low pay for many drivers is a major factor leading them to look for jobs elsewhere.

Overall, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, “careers in the transportation industry can lift Americans into the middle class or help them stay there, and this report concludes that there will be more job opportunities in the near future.

“We want to fill all these new positions, so industry and government must increase recruitment and help young people get the skills, training, and apprenticeships they need to gain entry into these careers.”

The report forecasts the highest number of job openings in transportation will probably be generated in New York City, Dallas, Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago.

And it underscores that transportation systems need to invest in human capital as well as facilities. “Ensuring that America continues to lead the way in the global economy means not only investing in the physical infrastructure that allows us to move goods and keep up with global demand, but also the skills infrastructure to support this growing workforce,” said Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.

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