Career plan for highway department

The Anoka County Board has signed off on a multimodal transportation career development plan for the Anoka County Highway Department.

Its purpose is to attract and retain employees in the multimodal section through a career advancement and pay structure that is competitive with both the public and private sectors.

Career development plans are not new to the highway department; they have been put in place in the traffic signal and engineering sections, according to Doug Fischer, county highway engineer.

“We have found that these systems have allowed us to attract, retain and compensate our professional and technical talent in a competitive and performance based manner,” Fischer said.

The multimodal section  of the highway department comprises a manager, senior transportation planner, a full-time temporary transportation planner, along with two Transportation Management Organization (TMO) employees – a coordinator and assistant coordinator.

Its focus is not just on  highways, but also transit, pedestrian/bicycle and freight.

The past several years, the department has had a fairly stable staff which has been able to secure grants averaging $10 million to $15 million annually for construction projects, develop and implement a low-cost, high benefit public involvement program for several projects, complete the 2030 transportation plan and establish the TMO now known as Commute Solutions, according to Kate Garwood, multimodal transportation manager.

In addition, the multimodal section has worked with Anoka County’s GIS office to develop an interactive construction map for use by the public and has been working on a project to bring bus service to Highway 65, Garwood said.

But things have changed – the senior planner left earlier this year and Garwood plans to retire at the end of the year, she said in a memo.

There has been frustration in the department over the lack of opportunities for career advancement, Garwood said.

For example, the last two staff persons to leave had been with the department five years or more and both left the county for advancement opportunities with consulting firms, she said.

The county’s salaries for transportation planners have not kept pace with peer counties or private sector consulting firms, nor with other careers that incorporate complex, long-term, multi-jurisdictional, plans and projects involving sensitive political negotiations and mediations with neighboring elected officials, individual and businesses, Garwood wrote in her memo.

“Unfortunately, the benefits from the training and development investment made in these folks will not accrue to the county, but the new employers,” she said.

Adding the multimodal section to the career development plans in place for the overall highway department will provide more opportunity for employees to grow with the county and for the county to build and maintain a seasoned and dedicated workforce, according to Garwood.

In addition to being beneficial to the multimodal section employees, the career development plan will provide the highway department with the most flexible structure to meet the county’s needs, Garwood wrote.

“The system offered is structurally comparable to the existing engineering and signal sections and reflects the current market for transportation planners in  the Twin Cities metro area and across the country,” she said.

The new system will give professional and experienced employees room to grow and not become “stuck” in the system at the same level after a certain number of years with their only option to leave, Fischer told the county board.

The career development plan will be performance based and can be achieved in a way that is budget neutral, he said.

“This will be very helpful to the highway department,” said County Commissioner Robyn West, chairperson of the board’s Management Committee, which recommended approval of the career development plan.

“This is long overdue and something we have done in other areas.”

According to Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah, this proposal will “ensure people don’t feel they are stuck in a dead end” and have an opportunity to grow.


Peter Bodley is at [email protected]