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Trucks pass each other at the Illinois Route 255 southbound merger ramp leading from Gateway Commerce Center in Edwardsville.

Resignation clouds plans for IDOT

Pg01 schneiderSchneider    The sudden resignation of the head of the Illinois Department of Transportation, coming even as she was planning for massive revamps at the agency, puts plans for the department into question.
    Ann L. Schneider’s resignation was announced June 30 after longtime anti-patronage crusader Michael Shakman called for a federal judge to order an investigation into government hiring following a Better Government Association probe that revealed Schneider’s stepdaughter had been put on the payroll and promoted at the agency, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
    Gov. Pat Quinn has named Erica Borggren, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to replace Schneider at IDOT.
    Schneider was appointed by Quinn in 2011 to head up IDOT.  A Quinn spokesman was not immediately offering an explanation about why she resigned.
    Just days before the resignation, Schneider sat down for an interview with the Illinois Business Journal regarding burdensome retirements being faced by her agency.

    Illinois, which is at the geographic center of many freight, interstate and waterway needs in America, is also on the verge of desperately needing people to work in those sectors, she had said, calling it a "human capital" crisis.
    Last month, Schneider issued a lengthy plan to enlist educators, labor, businessmen and other partners to draw people into the careers that are now being depleted by retirements, not just within IDOT.
    "We are not reaching young people that will be making decisions about career choices. You ask them what they want to be, and they may not know. We want to get them thinking about transportation and logistics," Schneider told the Illinois Business Journal.
    The fields facing the biggest gaps are truck drivers, freight handlers, airline pilots, welders, barge workers, diesel mechanics and engineers of all stripes.
    Her resignation may put into question how IDOT proceeds with its Human Capital Strategic Plan, a 59-page document. But it does not change the need to address the massive skill and worker shortages expected in the next 20 to 30 years.
    Illinois had 440,000 jobs (as of May 2013) in the transportation industry, and that number is projected to grow 23 percent by 2040, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
    "One statistic that really struck me was the anticipated 8.3 percent increase in jobs in transportation and logistics. But the number of replacements needed is expected to be four times that growth," Schneider had  said, referring to some 11,000 anticipated retirements in related jobs throughout the state.
    Almost two out of three industry CEOs said in surveys conducted by IDOT that they are worried they won't have the workers they need to meet goals due to retirements and a shortage of training opportunities.
    IDOT's internal staff developed the plan during the last three years by conducting surveys in this state,  other states and among representatives of industries about their situations. A general plan with a number of solutions was devised.
    Among goals are to: partner with education institutions and private sector companies and labor organizations; promote diversity programs assess and develop current training programs for specializations; and collaborate with unions on training.
    "The model we came up with is one we feel can be replicated elsewhere," Schneider said of other states.
    IDOT will be working with the Illinois Community College Board and the Illinois Board of Higher Education on ways to reach out to students to get the message across.
    IDOT hopes to partner with colleges that specialize in certain training. But the report notes educational gaps in some fields. While future biochemical engineers and geologists are served by programs offered at most of the larger colleges, some occupations, like logistics engineers and sustainability specialists aren't presently served by Illinois institutions, according to the report.
    In some cases only individual schools offer the kinds of programs that are needed. Southern Illinois University Carbondale, for instance, is mentioned for its automotive engineering technician program. Lewis and Clark Community College is noted for its water/wastewater training program, handy for future engineers who specialize in water-related environmental projects.
    The biggest need will be truck drivers. According to the Illinois Department of Labor Security, the state will need 1,790 truck drivers during the next five years. Employment of heavy and tractor-trailer drivers is projected to growth 21 percent between 2010 and 2020, faster than the average of all transportation occupations, 14 percent.
    One-quarter of all freight travels through this state, IDOT says. Some 63 percent of that freight is moved by truck.
    The worker needs are also exceptional on the water, by rail and in air. Seven Class 1 railroads run through Illinois. Two of America's 25 biggest air cargo airports are in the Land of Lincoln — Chicago O'Hare International and Chicago Rockford International.
    To some degree IDOT's needs mirror a lot of industries, but the worker resources within the agency are dwindling fast.
    All but roughly 25 percent of the estimated 5,210-member IDOT workforce is over the age of 40, Schneider had said.
    Here are some of the highlights of the new report.
    - Based on years of service and ages of all IDOT workers, approximately 2,000 employees will be eligible for retirement in 2015. Some 900 are eligible to retire during the current fiscal year.
    - With limited government resources and increased competition for skills within the transportation industry, IDOT says it's essential to keep up with emerging trends, technology and multi-modal transportation.
    - A six-step workforce planning framework will have to be established. Among other things it will determine needs through an assessment of the current workforce to better understand the gaps that exist and what skills and knowledge will be needed.
    - Women comprise about 20 percent of the current workforce and non-Caucasians make up around 17.5 percent.
    - More than 40  percent are classified as civil engineers or engineering technicians, the latter which includes specialties such as chemists, cartographers, information analysts and line technicians.
    In light of the coming shortage, IDOT has identified many gaps that will hinder the efficiency of the agency. There is need to focus on recruitment, improve upward mobility of interns and new employees, enhance partnerships with unions to offer training; and need to implement a Highway Construction Careers Training Program, Schneider had said.
    While pursuing solutions, the department is trying to remain mindful of transportation safety, preserving and managing the existing system, addressing congestion and following a comprehensive planning process, she said.
    Many of the shortages will hinder the department's ability to carry out what it sees as its multi-modal vision, the report said.
    "From a retention standpoint the anticipated retirements within the IDOT workforce are likely to create deficits in critical professional expertise. ... From a recruitment standpoint, the department will compete with private sector firms to hire top level professionals and students in these fields as their expertise will be in demand," the report concludes.
    Because of the state's limited means, Schneider said IDOT risks a growing situation of hiring people, training them and losing them to higher paying, outside jobs. She is hopeful, though, that the external outreach programs now being planned will help convince many prospects to make the department a career.
    The national average wage for the multi modal industry is $46,612, while Illinois offers slightly more, at $47,807.
    The average IDOT salary as of 2013 was $70,000, which has kept it competitive; the retention rate for new hires over the past five years was 87 percent.
    IDOT's plan calls for elements of it to be implemented within months, not years because of performance-based goals that are built into it.
    To view the plan, visit www.dot.state.il.us/opp/planning.html.
    Schneider's future is uncertain. Last year, she was appointed chairwoman of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Freight Advisory Committee to begin addressing the evolving issues of the country’s freight and logistics industries and the appointment has dovetailed nicely with some of IDOT's internal scrutiny.