Colorado DOT-Sponsored Highway Maintenance Course in High Demand

A first-in-the-nation highway maintenance management two-year college degree program introduced by the Colorado Department of Transportation and Front Range Community College in January is experiencing high demand, according to news reports, with 61 students enrolled.

[Above photo by the Colorado DOT.]

“With this program we are really trying to redefine the future of transportation professionalism in this country,” explained Susan Baillargeon, the program’s director.

According to an FRCC blog post, the program’s coursework is designed to give employees of the Colorado DOT – as well as other state DOT and public works agency workers across the country – the education they need to meet the increasing complexity and demands of the nation’s transportation network.

Photo by Colorado DOT

It also aims to help highway maintenance agencies improve their succession planning for management positions – enabling them to recruit and retain well-trained, effective and professional managers.

Crafted with input from the Colorado chapter of the American Public Works Association, leadership from the Colorado Local Technical Assistance Program, and leaders from a variety of local Colorado public works agencies, FRCC’s new Associate of Applied Science degree is relevant to state, county and municipal public works agencies, as well as private sector companies involved in the maintenance of roads and bridges.

[Helping establish this college-level degree is also part of the Colorado DOT’s efforts to recruit more workers into the highway maintenance career field.]

The school said courses in the new program will teach management and leadership skills – such as supervising employees, budgeting, and project management.

It will also train participants in the technical skills needed for highway maintenance and operations, including: highway safety, winter storm operations, maintaining bridges, traffic operations, emergency/incident management and environmental protection.

Photo by the Colorado DOT

FRCC added that the program will use as much of the industry-provided training as possible to award college credits through its prior learning assessment process – capturing as much prior industry experience as possible and awarding college credit for it.

The difficulty in recruiting and retaining workers for a variety of highway maintenance occupations is emblematic of a growing national shortage of construction-related labor skills.

The results of an annual survey released by the Associated General Contractors of America and Autodesk in August found that 80 percent of the construction firms polled said they are having difficulty filling hourly “craft” positions, while 73 percent noted it will “continue to be hard or get even harder” to find such hourly workers over the next 12 months.

Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, recently provided an overview of how a similar shortage of workers is affecting the state DOT community in a guest column for a special Workforce Edition of the Eno Transportation Weekly.

Jim Tymon. Photo by Cathy Morrison/MoDOT

“How do we change such perceptions, especially of state DOTs? The first is to take a more ‘holistic approach’ to workforce recruiting and retention compared to the past – one that includes building a more ‘diverse’ workforce that includes more women and minorities to help provide new and different perspectives on transportation needs,” he explained.

“It’s also about making careers in transportation less about raw infrastructure, such as roads and rails, and more about how that infrastructure benefits people in their daily lives – whether they are shipping packages to loved ones, traveling to and from work, getting the kids to and from school, or going on vacation,” Tymon noted.

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