Question 3

Assess and identify any current or anticipated gaps between necessary workforce skills identified above and the existing baseline skills/credential requirements of the current workforce.

Best Practices:

There are several ways to assess the gap between baseline skills and those skills required to maintain and repair ZEBs. One comprehensive method to assess E/E skills is to administer skills gap surveys, questionnaires that ask technicians to rate their own abilities.  In it, technicians are asked to grade their own ability to perform job tasks on a scale from 5-1 where 5 is an indication that “You are so familiar with this task that you could instruct others,” (highest skill level) and 1, an indication that “You are unaware of this task, or don’t understand what it means” (lowest skill level). Other responses, 4 through 2, denote various skill levels in between. The numbering system allows agencies to identify each technician’s skill level overall. It also identifies proficiencies in specific tasks making weak areas easy to identify. The higher the average score, the higher the skill level.  The tasks used to establish skill levels for each subject area (e.g., brakes, engine, and E/E) come from the industry-recognized APTA training standards (also referred to as recommended practices) established for bus technicians on a joint labor-management basis to pass ASE certification testing. 

In developing a skills gap survey to establish baseline E/E skills, a transit agency may use all or some of the job tasks identified in the APTA standard/recommended practice established specifically for E/E. The actual title is Training Syllabus to Instruct/Prepare for the ASE Transit Bus Electrical/Electronics Test. Job tasks listed in that standard can then be turned into a skills gap survey. Agencies could insert all of the E/E tasks into the survey to assess the full range of a technician’s E/E skills. However, the APTA standard is comprehensive and contains nine pages of tasks, so agencies may want to pick and choose those that in their experience best reflect a technician’s skill level in a more abbreviated manner. A skills gap survey example is provided as a resource here that agencies can use as a starting point to develop their own survey. It contains an abbreviated list of electrical/electronics and ZEB specific tasks In any case, labor and management should jointly develop the skills gap survey as a way to assess baseline E/E skills.

Additionally, any application of skills gap surveys should be done on a joint labor-management basis. First, it should be communicated to technicians that the sole purpose of the survey is to assess skills so training can be provided to enhance those skills. The survey results should not be used to discipline technicians or affect them negatively in any manner.  Low scores, whether individually or in a group, should only be viewed as technicians needing additional training.

The surveys could be applied in one of two ways. One is to keep the skills gap survey anonymous. Doing so gives a generalized overview of skills but does not identify skill gaps for individual technicians. Agencies have found, however, that anonymity helps to ensure that respondents will answer honestly. The other method is to include technicians’ names so specific deficiencies for each technician can be identified and training tailored to fill those gaps. With either survey method, it is recommended that surveys be developed and administered on a joint labor-management basis as described above.  In addition to not using the results of the survey to discipline technicians, survey results should not be shared outside a group of individuals jointly agreed upon and by both labor and management. 

Once foundational E/E skills have been assessed, agencies have a tool by which to identify strengths and weaknesses in specific subject areas. Those with strong overall E/E skills could then become the primary candidates to be trained on ZEBs. They could also serve as mentors in an apprenticeship or other training program to transfer both basic E/E skills and more advanced ZEB skills to others lacking those skills.

Another skills gap survey could then be used to assess skills specific to ZEBs. As indicated earlier, a training standard for ZEBs is underway by TWC/APTA but has not yet been established. Regardless, there are fundamental ZEB skills that are obvious. Of major importance are those skills pertaining to high-voltage (HV) safety where technicians not properly trained could find themselves victims of serious injury or death. Technicians with prior hybrid-electric bus experience will have an easier time closing the skills gap because they already have similar experience. However, those without hybrid-electric bus experience will need comprehensive HV electrical training to ensure their safety. Until the final learning objectives are established through the industry vetting process, agencies should partner with their ZEB OEMs to develop a more comprehensive ZEB skills gap survey. Without exception, for obvious and significant safety reasons, technicians should not work on ZEBs until they have one through and established the required competencies on HV safety.

In summary, the skills gap surveys represent an effective way to identify skills for the current workforce so training can be specifically targeted to close the gaps. Surveying shop-floor supervisors, trainers, and leads, along with documenting technicians with ASE E/E certifications and other training, provide additional ways in which to gain a full understanding of existing E/E and ZEB skill levels among the current workforce. 
Of course, skill gap assessments are not needed if a transit agency has the resources to train all of their technicians, such that each has the requisite E/E and ZEB skills before they ever get to work on a ZEB.  Some agencies that have the resources to do this have taken this approach, finding that it is easier than using surveys and training subsets of workers, based on differing needs, and also finding refresher training for technicians with the skills can have a positive impact. 

Best Practice Examples:

Skills Gap Analysis: Starting at SEPTA in Philadelphia and extending to all of the PA transit agencies, the Keystone Transit Career Ladder Partnership built training plans around skills gap analysis. Once the job task analysis (see Question 1) is complete, the task list can be reorganized as a set of self-evaluation questions. To ensure validity, responses should be anonymous. Frontline workers and frontline managers design the survey. Ideally, union representatives distribute and collect the surveys. Workers rate themselves on each task from novice to expert.  The results provide a map of what training is needed. As with Job Task Analysis, the results of the skills survey need careful review and validation by a joint committee with strong subject matter knowledge. Once reviewed and validated, the skills gap analysis provides a map for developing a skills training plan. This methodology also creates jointly owned data that empowers the labor-management partnership. This same method has informed the Joint Workforce Initiative in San Jose, Project Empire at CDTA in Albany and numerous other joint labor-management training initiatives.


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