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Transportation: An Industry on the Go
by Heidi Lynn Russell, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: Crete Carrier and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

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What do an 18-wheeler truck driver, the general manager of the Denver Regional Transportation District and the Chief Operating Officer of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority have in common?

They’re all military veterans who were surprised by the career opportunities and upward job mobility in the transportation industry.

“I am having a ball!” says Keith Reday, a truck driver for Crete Carrier Corp., which is headquartered in Lincoln, Neb. “I spent 26 years in every other country of the world. I’m now seeing the country I spent 26 years defending. I’ve been to nearly every state. I’m just missing North Dakota, Rhode Island, Washington state, and Hawaii and Alaska.”

recruit military service membersJobs aren’t just limited to roadway adventures or railroad tracks, however. In fact, if you name the skill, chances are, there’s a job for you in this ever-expanding industry, say experts. As for the hiring outlook, if you select any niche of transportation, you’ll be going places. The current workforce is retirement-ready in areas of public transit, commercial railway companies, trucking and a little-known sector of the industry called, “intermediary services.” As a result, the hiring demand is expected to outpace the number of applicants in all industry sectors, experts note.

“What an exciting time to come into transportation!” says Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in Washington, D.C.

“You can be an attorney, mechanic, engineer, logistics person, planner; whatever your skill set is, the demand for the jobs is right now. Think about public transportation alone. We build big things that last for generations and serve millions of people. We’re not only providing jobs, but opportunities that serve a higher purpose, and we get to be a part of the community. We have so many opportunities for military members.”

Here’s a breakdown of the industry sectors and tips to get you on your way in transportation:

Public Transportation

“Public transportation is in a renaissance,” Melaniphy says. Because of the economy, this area is experiencing “record ridership numbers” nationwide, he says. “We are hitting capacity constraints with a lot of systems.”

Not only that, the workforce is Boomer-heavy. APTA did a survey in 2010 and found that 89 percent of public transportation agencies had employees approaching retirement. “It’s a major concern for the industry. We have a workforce that will turn over, and that will create opportunities to grow and rapid career advancement for new hires,” Melaniphy says.

Veterans are perfect candidates, because the military command structure of doing things “is indicative of what we do,” he adds. As a result, veterans intrinsically understand how things operate and the industry seeks to recruit military service members. Just at APTA alone, veterans hold such top-ranking jobs as director of IT, chief counsel, administrative manager and director of technical services, he adds. APTA also works closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration and federal and local law enforcement agencies on major safety security incidents of concern. So opportunities in security and law enforcement are even available.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, we have proven opportunities for all backgrounds,” Melaniphy says.

In June 2012, APTA initiated the Military/Transit Cooperative Task Force. The group is committed to bridging connections between transit systems and military communities via veteran job fairs, industry-wide hiring goals and facilitation of resource and information sharing. Alice Wiggins-Tolbert is Senior Manager of Parsons Brinckerhoff and Chair of this APTA Task Force.

“Our transit systems around the country are partnering with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that hosts veteran job fairs throughout the country. We are also partnering with the trucking and railroad industry. Wounded Warriors and Easter Seals are major advisors. Transportation associations around the country are sponsoring events and jobs fairs and so much more,” Wiggins-Tolbert says.

Phil Washington is General Manager of the Denver Regional Transportation District. He’s also a former Army Command Sergeant Major. When he exited in 2000 after 24- years of service, Washington saw a newspaper ad for “assistant general manager of administration” at the public transportation agency. The needed skills aligned with what he was doing in the military. He was in that position until 2009, when he became GM/CEO.

“I was never in a transportation unit,” Washington says, adding that he never considered a civilian career in transportation. But the leadership skills required, as well as his experience with procurement gained in the military, were a perfect match for him.

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) is Colorado’s largest public transit network and it has about 110 different job specialties, Washington says. The organization has more than 150 bus routes and five light rail lines, connecting the eight-county metro Denver community. And, the RTD is currently building the largest voter-approved transit system in the country. The “FasTracks” project is a multi-billion-dollar comprehensive transit expansion plan to build 122 miles of new commuter rail and light rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit and 21,000 new parking spaces at light rail and bus stations.

“There are plenty of IT and engineering jobs. Really, it’s across the spectrum as we build out,” Washington says.

RTD also has a workforce program that includes hiring veterans, “The Regional Workforce Initiative Now” or WIN program. The organization will collaborate with the Community College of Denver, Denver Transit Partners and Urban League of Metro Denver to train and place people into transportation careers. When hired by RTD, veterans automatically receive five extra points on the RTD’s ratings scale, which contributes to their standing in the organization.

Lonnie Mitchell is COO of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He spent 30 years in the Navy. Like Washington, he faced retirement in 2000, wondering where to go next. He was a Captain stationed in Virginia Beach, Va., as Vice Commander of the Navy Exchange Service Command, when his boss, a Rear Admiral, came into his office with a job posting.

“He said, ‘Hey, there’s a job in L.A. that’s written for you or me. You’re getting out before me. You apply for it,’” Mitchell recalls. “I got the job because my boss knew and found out about the job from somebody else. Networking - it’s a very big deal.”

Mitchell was also surprised to find transportation had great career mobility opportunities. “I hadn’t thought about it, even though I rode buses and trains growing up. I got into it because of my procurement contracting background,” he says.

Los Angeles’s transportation authority also has an aging employee workforce and an ever-growing public transportation system. Jobs are aplenty, Mitchell says. More than 600 employees are veterans; 61 came on board last year. The organization’s goal is for veterans to comprise 12 percent of new hires in 2013.

“We’re not a ‘transit authority.’ We do transit and help fund para-transit, but we also build construction, do regional planning and accept grant money from the DOT. We have a financial arm, planning arm, construction arm and also have all the functions: controllers, treasurers, financial officers, budget officers, purchasers, warehousers, janitorial, carpenters, mechanics and service attendants,” Mitchell says.

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