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Career Pathways

Crafting a TSMO Professional Development Plan

Transportation agencies should develop a professional development plan for their agency that addresses TSMO training needs by job category.  This should include training needs for both traditional and emerging TSMO positions.  Crafting this plan should be a collaborative effort that involves a number of roles within the transportation agency, including TSMO program managers or other champions within the agency who may assist in finding resources for professional development, technical managers who may recognize the triggers for new training, technical staff who may have the skills to help develop training or may be participants of the training, and HR staff who need to understand what KSAs are required for a successful TSMO program and potentially assist in designing the training.

The professional development plan should outline the delivery formats that would be most effective for the content and intended audience and include both technical and managerial skills.  The table below shows the key elements of the professional development framework that should be addressed in an agency’s development plan.

Key Elements of the TSMO Workforce Professional Development Framework



TSMO training guidelines by position

  • Organization-wide
  • TSMO-focused staff
  • By staff level


  • Technical
  • Managerial
  • Other (e.g., communication skills, interpersonal skills)

Delivery method

  • Academy-style
  • Lecture
  • Interactive workshops
  • Job sharing
  • Online
  • Immersion


  • In-house
  • Training consultants
  • Professional societies
  • Universities


The next table shows a sample training and professional development program.  The proposed plan illustrates the need for a basic level of TSMO understanding for all new and existing staff within the DOT, with more in-depth, focused training for those working within the TSMO field. 

Sample Workforce Development Plan

Basic Training

Advanced Training

New DOT Employee Orientation

Duration: 1.5 hours

Format: Webinar logged in DOT Knowledge Management System (KMS)

Description: Provide a brief overview of TSMO at a very high level

New TSMO Employee Orientation

Duration: 24 hours

Format: ½ Immersion and ½ self-guided tutorial

Description: Immersion training including visits to TMC, Statewide Emergency Operations Center (EOC), Maintenance Garage, Safety Service Patrol ride along, Snow Removal ride along (as weather permits) and university partner. 

Co-Op/Intern Experience

Duration: 8 hours

Format: Lecture and site visits

Description: ½ day lecture on TSMO and ½ visiting TMC and Safety Service Patrol


TSMO 101 On-Line Training

Duration: A series of about 6-30-minute modules that cover the basis of TSMO

Format: Webinar with scored quizzes

Description: Preliminary list of modules include: Introduction to TSMO, the role of the TMC, how TSMO impacts how we plan projects, how TSMO impact how we design projects, how TSMO impacts how we manage the transportation network

TSMO 201 Advanced On-Line Training

Duration: A series of about 12-30-minute modules on advanced TSMO topics

Format: Webinar with scored quizzes

Description: Example topics include: Work Zone Management, Traveler Information, ITS Field Device Design, ITS Maintenance, Planning for TSMO, ITS Data Management

District Awareness Training

Duration: 3.5 hours

Format: Lecture

Description: A series of 20-minute modules that provide an overview of DOT’s TSMO Program

District TSMO Practitioner Training

Duration: 8 hours

Format: Lecture

Description: Provide an overview of how District TSMO staff are expected to coordinate activities with Central Office including: budgeting, planning for operations, TSMO project Design, Traffic Incident Management, and Emergency Management 

Basic State DOT Operations Academy

Duration: 2 days

Format: Combination of lectures, group exercises, and at least one field visit

Description: A series of one-hour lectures by different regional subject matter experts

Modeled after National Operations Academy

Advanced State DOT Operations Academy

Duration: 4 days

Format: Combination of lectures, group exercises, and at least one field visit

Description: In-depth training on all aspects of TSMO including a presentation by national subject matter experts

Modeled after National Operations Academy


Professional development can be used to support existing staff and recruit from within an organization by supporting the development of KSAs within traditional positions and allowing employees to evolve into new and emerging positions.  Professional development focused on specialized TSMO KSAs within more traditional positions can be used to support the evolution of TSMO programs in smaller agencies.  For example, a traditional traffic engineer position can be expanded to take on the responsibilities of integrated corridor management by developing KSAs that include advanced traffic management, transit management, and traffic incident management.

In addition to formal training sessions and workshops, experiential learning, service learning, mentoring/coaching, and problem and context-based learning are important elements to developing the TSMO workforce.  These experiences should be integrated within secondary, post-secondary, and professional settings in order to achieve both career awareness and development goals.  At the secondary and post-secondary levels, problem and context-based learning opportunities can help students better understand TSMO career paths and connections between content they are learning in academic coursework and real-world operations tasks.  National examples relevant to TSMO include the NOCoE Transportation Technology Tournament (post-secondary) and the Operations Challenges developed as part of the National Transportation Career Pathways Initiative (secondary and post-secondary, expected release June 2019).  Experiential learning, such as through internships, co-ops or apprenticeships can provide even greater opportunities for students, as the ‘learning by doing’ approach creates deeper understanding and a more expansive knowledge base for students, as well as provides interaction with industry mentors.  The US Department of Labor’s (DOL) pre-apprenticeship programs for high school students now include numerous STEM options relevant to TSMO, including engineering and computer science.  The added flexibility to DOL apprenticeship programs through recent changes in the Registered Apprenticeship process and expansion of the apprenticeship model into nontraditional occupations (such as engineering) also allow apprenticeships to be established in conjunction with Universities and 4+ year degree programs.  These programs create opportunities for more intentional development of potential TSMO workers from early in the career exploration process.  Strategic partnerships between DOTs, K-12 districts, and higher education can establish well-structured development programs for TSMO prior to workers entering full-time, permanent positions.

For incumbent workers, experiential learning, service learning and mentoring/coaching are also extremely important for broadening and strengthening TSMO knowledge. Several DOTs have established rotation options for employees that enable them to gain experience within multiple areas.  For example, the Tennessee DOT’s Graduate Transportation Associate program engages entry-level civil engineers in hands-on experience in maintenance, construction, design, and project management while also providing additional training in leadership and team-building.  The Virginia DOT offers a similar program through its Core Development Program (CDP) with both engineering and business tracks.  The CDP cross-trains staff throughout the agency, while also providing participants with a formal mentor.  VDOT has also instituted 30-, 60-, and 90-day positions swaps to temporarily fill vacant positions and provide employees with cross-training and varied perspectives.  Experiential learning does not have to take a formal rotational approach, and can also be provided through thoughtful assignment of TSMO employees to relevant projects (including complex team projects for even entry-level staff) and committees.  Formal mentoring or coaching programs can also help staff better understand career pathways and develop a career advancement strategy.  Mentors or coaches may be within the agency (but outside the employee’s current supervisory chain) or outside through programs established through professional organizations.  Formal mentoring/coaching programs are demonstrated to be more effective than informal, and may be particularly helpful for retaining and advancing diverse TSMO professionals.

Service learning has been proven to be effective in both secondary/post-secondary and professional environments.  For secondary/post-secondary students, service learning strengthens commitment to the discipline, increases understanding of academic content through hands-on application and creates better connections to societal impact (important for both recruitment and development).  In a professional setting, service learning results in greater employee engagement, connection to the organization, career fulfillment and broadened knowledge/skillsets.  Service learning integrates meaningful community engagement into an experiential learning experience that may be based within a formal context (e.g., an academic course) or tied to an organizational mission.  Service learning projects often include partnerships between community organizations, local school districts or institutes of higher education, and industry partners, and ultimately provides a valuable community service in concert with a development opportunity.

Other Areas of Investment to Strengthen TSMO Workforce

There are several other areas that agencies can invest in that help strengthen the TSMO workforce.  In addition to strengthening the TSMO workforce, investments in these areas are often far-reaching and may also improve the non-TSMO workforce.  The areas of investment discussed below include: improving HR systems, formalizing career paths, enhancing employee morale, establishing relationships with educational entities, and ensuring adequate hardware and software.

To strengthen the TSMO workforce across transportation agencies, investments should be made in training, development, and the systems that support the hiring and retention of TSMO professionals.  Meeting changing needs for a TSMO workforce requires investing in HR systems that are capable of tracking time, professional education, and certifications.  HR policies and procedures must become more flexible than traditional systems around time, travel, training, and expenses, and HR staff will need to focus on new ways to support recruiting and training TSMO professionals who do not fit traditional agency functions of design, build, and maintain.  This will require new software systems, training for HR staff, and an investment in reviewing and revising current policies and procedures.

Agencies should consider investments in developing and formalizing career paths for new and emerging specialties in TSMO.  Without defined paths for nontraditional and emerging jobs, it is often difficult to attract and retain employees whose KSAs may be more closely aligned with career paths in other industries.  For example, if a Cyber Security Engineer position does not offer clearly articulated advancement opportunities within a transportation agency, it will be difficult to recruit and retain talented applicants.  Investments in professional development and advancement opportunities should be defined within the agency for emerging and nontraditional positions.

An important aspect of enhancing employee morale in today’s workforce is defining and highlighting a sense of purpose, particularly among younger and non-traditional transportation employees.  Although it is not generally considered a strategy to enhance workforce satisfaction, a clearly defined agency mission supported by performance measures and specified outcomes provides a sense of purpose for employees.  Investing in strategic planning and performance management provides a benefit not only to the agency as a whole, but it also benefits TSMO workforce and staff morale by articulating the importance of the work to the community, society, and the economy.  This is an important aspect of retaining employees in public sector agencies, especially those in emerging areas that may offer higher pay and benefits in other fields. 

An important area for investment is in developing strong, long-term relationships with universities for the development and recruitment of future TSMO professionals.  This requires active engagement of TSMO professionals with future professionals to promote TSMO and build interest and enthusiasm for TSMO careers.  This can include kindergarten through 12th grade students as well to help shape their understanding of possible career choices.  Identifying schools with which to engage, developing a regular program of outreach, and defining the subjects and techniques for engagement should be part of a strategic effort to build strong relationships.

As new technology-based positions are established, investment in associated technology is needed to support these new positions.  To properly equip employees to do their jobs, new hardware, software, systems, and updates will be needed.  Just hiring a new TSMO Modeling Specialist or Visualization Specialist, for example, without the tools needed to effectively perform the job functions is not only ineffective, but frustrating to the new employee.

Each of the areas of investment should be considered at the agency level as emerging TSMO positions are established.  They should also be considered at the national level as potential areas for additional research.

Career Pathways Initiative

The National Network of Transportation Workforce Centers has developed a Career Pathways Initiative to engage students in the post-secondary educational continuum to choose transportation career pathways. The demonstrations will leverage insights from employers to empower students to first learn about critical transportation occupations and then develop the skills to meet the related workforce challenges. With multidisciplinary specialists, stakeholders from across the country, and extensive labor market analysis, the national network team is uniquely positioned to carry out the goals of the strategic initiative. The career pathway demonstration programs will prepare future transportation professionals to develop industry competencies and move beyond disciplinary silos to address transportation workforce challenges throughout the nation.

Join the Career Pathways Initiative here.