The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) provides transportation for the entire state of Maryland, including bus, rail, metro, subway and a commuter rail system called MARC. MTA also works with all locally operated transit systems for each of the counties in Maryland that have power transit for the elderly and the disabled. That equals some 3,200 union and non-union employees to train using three groups under the MTA Office of Training and Development umbrella: transportation, which includes bus and rail operators; maintenance, which includes mechanics and facility maintenance workers; and administration, which covers management training, employee development and policy training.
“I’m trying to set it up so that we are actually used like a consultant,” said Joe Seitz, director, Office of Training and Development, MTA. “The people that we train, the departments that we train, are our customers. They tell us what they need, and how they need to have the training done, and it’s our job to go get it done and to find the appropriate resources, schedules.”
Keeping customers/employees happy can be challenging, especially when the MTA operates 24×7 and service must continue despite training. To ease training and scheduling conflicts, Seitz has extended the former six-month training schedule to roll out over a full year. “Because we are in a union environment, we have to pay a bus operator for being in class, and then we have to replace that work with someone at time-and-a-half. That really adds up. We can’t just schedule a class, pull 20 people out of service and put them into a classroom,” Seitz said. “We look at modularizing our training so we can get it into smaller pieces. It may take a little longer to get the entire program completed, but this way we’re not disrupting service. We’re not creating a burden on the budget.”
MTA is also exploring e-learning options to facilitate training. Implementing a Pathlore learning management system (LMS) has helped MTA track training and has freed a lot of administrative support staff, whom Seitz said are better utilized as in-class training resources. The LMS allows MTA employees to access their training records and an MTA training catalog and schedules so they can sign up for classes online and access the system from home. Using Pathlore as a Web host is a real advantage for mechanics, bus and rail operators and other people in the field who don’t have ready access to computers and may need home access. “We’ve established a number of computers throughout the agency that are available for people to do learning,” Seitz said. “We’re also looking into a number of just-in-time e-programs where folks can sit behind the computer in their spare time and in small chunks, refresh their skills, get a heads up or learn new skills before they go into a classroom.”
Each MTA job category has a curriculum, a training schedule and a number of required core courses that serve as the basis for a progressive standard of building blocks to a career path. MTA conducts evaluations of every course upon completion, and all evaluations are submitted to Maryland’s Department of Transportation for review. Seitz and his training team also meet regularly with customers/employees to get direct feedback and conduct hands-on evaluation by doing walk-throughs in the shops and break rooms to look for performance patterns that indicate a need to tweak training.
Seitz said that in the past training at MTA was used as a punitive measure. “Unless there was new equipment coming on board, you only got training if you messed something up,” he explained. “But if we continue to train, we can prevent some issues from happening instead of waiting for them to happen. When there’s a crisis, training becomes very important. When there’s not a crisis it’s almost like, do we really need to do this? I’m having some success trying to change this, which is very refreshing and reassuring for our upper management people, especially now because homeland security is taking big chunks out of everyone’s budgets.”
Seitz said that MTA is working to develop an entrepreneurial spirit and encourage creative thinking on the job. “Transit is such a busy industry,” he explained. “Safety, customers standing on the street waiting for your buses—there’s a whole lot of stuff that other industries don’t have to deal with. You tend to get caught up in that out of necessity. We want to break away from that and infuse new ideas. Even though we are a state/government agency, we’re still a business. If we think of ourselves as a business and operate as a business, maybe some of the things that are hurdles now become great opportunities to improve our service to our customers and increase our customer base. We have some really good people here at the MTA, and we’re trying to give them some new tools to reinvigorate them and give them some different insights into how they do what they do.”