When it comes to its most important mission -- building and maintaining roads and bridges -- the Oregon Department of Transportation faces a workforce planning problem that could put contractor oversight and construction quality at risk, according to a report released today by Secretary of State Kate Brown.
Short-term, the Highway Division workforce is spread too thin in some geographic regions.
Long-term, the agency faces a critical loss of skills and expertise because of retirements.
“ODOT needs better workforce planning to ensure a safe and cost-effective transportation system,” said Secretary Brown.
In recent years, ODOT has been reducing its Highway Division workforce through attrition because of projected declines in gas taxes. At the same time, temporary bond funding has increased the division’s workload in some parts of the state, boosting reliance on non-permanent workers and straining ODOT inspectors and engineers.
Auditors analyzed employee demographics and interviewed more than 70 ODOT employees throughout Oregon. Employees voiced common concerns that reduced workforce capacity could lead to a decrease in construction quality.
Workload demands have created another problem: interfering with the transfer of institutional knowledge from experienced employees to newer hires. Passing along institutional knowledge is critical to the important job of designing and inspecting the building of roads and bridges.
Looking forward, one-third of the Division’s workforce is eligible for retirement in the next five years. Failure to transfer their expertise and skills to the next generation of employees would pose problems for overseeing projects and ensuring their long-term quality.
The audit found that ODOT needs better succession planning to preserve crucial staff expertise during these personnel changes. Auditors found ODOT had not yet documented the skills needed for the most critical tasks, a first step in workforce planning.
The audit also recommends that ODOT not simply rely on gas tax projections when determining needed staffing levels. Highway bonds, for example, are another common source of funding that has historically received bi-partisan support in the Legislature, Secretary Brown noted.
ODOT needs to identify and document critical technical skills and expertise, develop organizational succession plan strategies to address gaps in needed skills and expertise, and consider using developmental and double-filled positions to train less experienced staff.
News release: Oregon Secretary of State