The New Workforce And How Transportation Planning And Policy Can Prepare For Them
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Policy Brief

The New Workforce And How Transportation Planning And Policy Can Prepare For Them

Ten defining trends that should inform transportation policy and provide key approaches to transportation strategies.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was fond of quoting August Comte in saying “Demography is destiny.” Never has this been truer than in the present era. Social, economic, and technological change have forged the most difficult period in the past 50 years for discussing the future, much less making forecasts. Yet today’s policies need to serve future infrastructure needs. Specifically, transportation planning and policies demand a solid grasp of demographic trends and their consequent geographic effects on businesses and the workforce. This brief examines these trends, integrating them into a list of 10 defining trends that should inform transportation policy and provide key approaches to transportation strategies. The defining trends are:

  1. As there will be very limited domestic growth and limited skilled immigration in the traditional workforce age group, employers will need to attract more women, rural residents and older residents into the labor force. Policymakers must find a way to increase the labor force participation rate and expand workers’ access to jobs.
  2. Employment will become more specialized. Since attracting skilled workers will be challenging, larger commuter sheds, which allow employers access to more potential employees, will be key. Reducing congestion in major metro areas and creating broader access in exurban and rural areas will be increasingly important.
  3. The U.S. economy will transition to a services-based, worker-supply-driven world. Employers will locate where skilled workers live, mostly in amenities-based environments. Unskilled workers will follow skilled workers, particularly employees in medical services who will follow the elderly, wherever they choose to be. Substantial growth in major metro areas, college towns, and resort areas is expected.
  4. Good supply chains and logistics will be a strategic national advantage. But state and local governments will make logistics a priority as well. There will be tension between state goals and interstate commerce requirements.
  5. The biggest differences in travel behavior will result from occupation, income, education and geography. Differences based on race, ethnicity and sex will continue to decrease.
  6. Major metro areas and large metro areas (those over two million people) will continue to grow larger. Job/worker ratios in the central city and suburbs will continue to move toward one. Many residents will live in the central city and work in the suburbs or live and work in different suburbs.
  7. Work schedules will be more flexible. More employees will work from home and more will work more variable hours per week.
  8. The traditional automotive modes (drive alone, transit, etc.) will give way to tech-assisted semi-modes, but change will be slow. As autonomous vehicles develop, who owns the vehicles will help shape policy.
  9. Autonomous vehicles will expand personal autonomy and access to opportunities for all but will generate job dislocations.
  10. As a result, planning and making policy will be very challenging. Freight flows, worker access and economic opportunities will be the focus areas of planning. Overcoming infrastructure backlogs will be more significant than responding to expected future growth. Planning must be flexible to account for growing uncertainty, specifically around autonomous vehicles. Reorienting statewide and metropolitan planning around scenario planning that considers many different futures is one way to provide a flexible planning framework.

Full Brief: The New Workforce And How Transportation Planning And Policy Can Prepare For Them

Alan E. Pisarski has been an independent writer and consultant in the fields of transportation research, policy and investment analyses for the past 35 years.