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Transportation industry: Success route for Black men

3/21/2013, 11:01 a.m.

Brian J. Turner, executive director of TLC, said that the Labor Department is projecting 38 percent growth in employment in the transportation industry.

"Transit rail ridership is growing like crazy," Turner said. "You also have an older workforce where 40 percent of frontline workers, the people who maintain and operate the transit system, are expected to retire in the next 10 years."

We need to be training up that next generation, Turner added.

Unfortunately, the transportation industry has one of the lowest levels of investment in skills development of any industry, Turner said, limiting the efforts of groups like TLC.

On average, industries invest 2 percent of payroll in human capital. According to Turner, the nation's transit systems invest between 0.6 to 0.8 percent in the development of human capital.

"Without human capital, physical capital can't do anything useful," Turner said. "Physical capital can't run itself. It can't run on time. It can't run efficiently. It can't operate safely without human capital."

Turner said that with more money invested in training, TLC can implement framework national training standards and apprenticeships systems.

Brooks said that this type of framework, similar to what is being implemented at SEPTA in Pennsylvania, can be used as a model for other transit systems in urban areas.

Brooks admits that many people don't see the career opportunities that the public transit system provides.

"Transit jobs are not sexy," Brooks said. "Most people just think that this is just a man driving this bus up and down the street."

Brooks said that schools become critical in impressing upon students that public transit is somewhere that you can go to gain skills and branch out into other fields.

Austin said that students should also learn about the career mobility and income opportunities that the transportation industry offers.

"Hopefully, we'll all have long lives and as you progress through life and start a family, you have kids, college tuition to pay medical expenses, etc., you need occupations that will allow you the opportunity to advance [and] have greater income, to save and to put money away for your retirement," Austin said.

Brooks said that it's up to leaders in the industry, state and local officials to continue to push to make transportation careers a real opportunity for young people living in urban areas.

"What I learned a long time ago is that jobs are one year, two years and you're gone," Brooks said. "A career is something that I just did. Thirty years in the same employment, 30 life-sustaining years."