Maintaining SEPTA's "Other" Infrastructure

September 30, 2011

How Human Capital Programs Will Reshape SEPTA's Future

Strategic management programs require a dedicated team of employees to carry the torch. SEPTA is no different, with more than 9,000 employees committed to promoting a culture of excellence, continuous improvement, and innovation across a series of strategic programs - from system safety to customer service to sustainability.

Maintaining such a culture - one that it is conducive to the development and implementation of strategic initiatives that add value to an organization's mission - is a much greater challenge. This is particularly true at an organization like SEPTA, where more than 50 percent of mid- and upper-level management is eligible to retire by 2015. Sustainability, in this case, is rooted in the versatility and well-being of SEPTA's own workforce. Its ongoing capacity to provide the quality of transit service the region deserves depends on its ability to develop a robust pipeline of transit leaders to carry this torch into the future.

For this reason, add "human capital" to the list of SEPTA's strategic programs with a sustainability imperative. Given the wave of impending retirements, there has never been a better time to develop plans to recruit and train the next generation of transit leaders. SEPTA's Human Resources Division is on the case, with a slate of initiatives to improve business processes and tailor training programs to specific workforce development needs.

Take, for example, the focus areas of newly launched programs for SEPTA's fiscal year 2012:

1) Customized Education:

  • Strategy: Establish consultative relationships with divisional leaders to identify opportunities for developing customized education programs. Overall, SEPTA's training and education programs have proven to be popular, with attendance rates increasing by 24 percent rise between 2010 and 2011 (Source: SEPTA Corporate KPI Report). Moving forward, training opportunities will be enhanced by tailoring programs to specific needs and job requirements. One feature of this approach will be customized reporting and inquiry tools for managers to track employee training histories and strategize attendance needs. Programs will pay particular attention to performance management and customer service, where SEPTA will be able to build off of a comprehensive program established in 2010 to emphasize the importance of conflict resolution for front-line personnel.

2) Mentorship & Talent Management:

  • Strategy: Enable mentorship programs that facilitate knowledge transfer to the next generation of leaders. By linking expert leaders to promising employees outside their chain of command, mentorship programs will mitigate institutional knowledge losses from retirements and help to develop talent organically. Mentorship programs will be supplemented by new "Learning Connection" curriculum courses and leadership seminars such as "Individual Career Assessment" and "SEPTA 101: Tools for Talent Managers."

3) Succession Planning:

  • Strategy: Proactively develop transitioning-to-management programs (TMP) that prepare the next generation of frontline and assistant-level management positions, as well as a succession planning program that focuses on preparing a pool of candidates through a variety of development strategies, such as: internal and external leadership development; mentoring; and stretch assignments for key strategic positions. SEPTA's Human Resources team is in the process of developing a comprehensive approach to workforce planning, basing its selection of at-risk positions on mission-criticality, knowledge transfer needs, and "bench strength" - assessing whether there is already a qualified pool of candidates ready to fill the vacated position. This effort is being built in part on a recent grant award received from the Federal Transit Administration's Innovative Workforce Development Program, under which SEPTA will be developing a "toolkit" for other agencies to learn from SEPTA's efforts and use in their own succession planning initiatives.

To manage its wide-reaching slate of initiatives, SEPTA's HR team has developed a comprehensive matrix that charts out "Education Learning Tracks" based on type of employee and workforce development opportunity. This way, department directors down to individual contributors and everyone in between have a clear roadmap for receiving the sort of training and professional development opportunities they need. That roadmap, in turn, will serve as the basis for strategically investing in SEPTA's "other infrastructure" - its human capital infrastructure - to ensure that when this wave of retirements does occur, the organization is still on solid ground.

This is sustainability in its purest form - the capacity for an organization to weather any storm that comes its way. Now more than ever, human capital development is crucial to sustainability at SEPTA - an increasingly important objective as it prepares a new cadre of transit leaders to carry the torch into the next generation.