California Trains its Surveyors

A 1.120Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) employs 23,000 people to design, construct, maintain, and operate its 25,000km state highway system. California’s 34,000,000 citizens depend on us to provide a safe and efficient transportation infrastructure for their daily commutes to and from work, the delivery of goods, products, produce, and services that form an essential element of our economic vitality, and for their recreational and social needs. The department currently has approximately $6.5 billion in projects under construction for these purposes.

Caltrans’ project delivery staff is comprised of 11,000 technical and support personnel working in the Project Management, Design, Right of Way, Construction, Environmental, and Engineering Services divisions. This includes approximately 850 survey personnel who work with all of these divisions. Between 1989 and 2002 the project delivery staff grew by some 4,000 people. This rapid expansion, coupled with a high retirement and attrition rate, meant that 6,000 people were added during this time. In fiscal year 00/01, 56% of the project delivery staff had less than three years experience with the department, and many of the "old hands" were in supervisory or management positions–not working directly on project needs.

This is the background of what was considered a training crisis. How could we rapidly and efficiently provide the knowledge and skills necessary to help our staff improve the quantity and quality of its work product? The Department’s 1998 Strategic Plan included a three year, $45 million Capital Project Skill Development (CPSD) program which has nearly 1,000 courses approved for the task. It delivered more than one million hours of training in its first two years.

The CPSD program is implemented through the Project Delivery and Traffic Operations divisions. The Office of Geometronics was originally budgeted nearly $600,000 annually to design, develop and deliver its 15 approved surveying-related courses. The financial problems that the State of California is facing have forced significant changes. However, three years of CPSD operation has demonstrated the increased productivity that training provides. Supervisors have reported a 35% increase in overall job performance of those who have attended a CPSD course. Of even greater significance, the supervisors noticed a 42% improvement in those areas of employee’s responsibilities related to the training that they received.

Recognizing these and other benefits, the department’s executive staff has continued its commitment to our efforts. Despite the fact that less than half of the originally allocated resources are currently available, the Office of Geometronics training program has actually increased, partially as the result of insightful decisions made at the outset by the Surveys Management Board (SMB).

Although it varies from day to day, the department fields approximately 110 survey crews. Each is equipped with a total station (some robotic) and an automatic or digital level. Nearly 75 percent also have GPS capability. The 850 survey personnel are, essentially, assigned in one of twelve districts stretching from the Mexican border to about 600 miles south of Canada. Some of these districts have been organized into regions and each has one or more "local" survey managers. The SMB, comprised of the local and headquarters managers, meets quarterly to address statewide functional and organizational issues. Early in the CPSD effort, the SMB decided that it wanted a training program that could survive the inevitable reduction of funding. First, it set a direction of using the significant then available funding to create courses that can be delivered at the district level, thereby eliminating or reducing travel costs and "down time". Second, the SMB decided that "in-house" instructors could better provide Caltrans-specific training, and that doing so would further reduce the cost of delivery as compared to vendor sponsored classes. The board felt, however, that "in-house" course design would require too much staff time and could best be achieved by the use of vendors assisted by internal Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Third, the SMB committed to including a "training" component in future purchases of survey equipment and software, requiring the supplier to assist in the development of classes implementing the use of its products. This forward thinking and long-term goal setting has produced a survivable training program in what has now become an economically harsh environment.

Each district/region has a designated coordinator who is the local "focal point" for our surveyor-training program. One of the first tasks the coordinators tackled was developing and distributing a Needs Assessment. The coordinators collected the assessments from each supervisor and assembled a district/region assessment that indicated which courses were most needed and by how many people (both immediately and in the following year). These assessments were "rolled up" to form a statewide basis for allocating resources. The Needs Assessment has been, and will continue to be, updated so that effective use can be made of the available funding.

The functional group of coordinators, who meet frequently via teleconferencing, set about implementing the SMB’s decisions. It created tools and measures for the selection of training venues, explored alternatives to traditional modes of delivering training, and established means and methods of identifying, selecting and tasking SMEs and Instructors. In addition, it addressed the question of internal versus external production and presentation of individual courses.

The coordinators recognized that the quality of training received from a course presentation can be significantly impaired if the venue is less than appropriate. They developed standards regarding a number of aspects of facility selection to assure its appropriateness. Among the more important criteria adopted were room set-up (classroom style with sufficient table space for each student), clear line-of-sight for each participant, and adequate audio-video equipment. They also established a support network of individuals from the departments’ training and facilities-management staffs and other state agencies, and compiled a list of sites that would meet our needs. Long-range planning and room reservation enables the use of these state-owned facilities, and represents another means of reducing costs without sacrificing the quality of training.

The Surveys Management Board’s decision to use "in-house" instructors for vendor-designed classes presented a wide range of issues to be addressed. For some classes, specifically GPS, we chose to send one person from each district to the manufacturer’s "instructor training class". The department now has twelve Trimble Certified Instructors who conduct all kinematic and postprocessed GPS training. For most other courses our SMEs have assisted vendors in designing materials that specifically address departmental policies and procedures. After the course materials have been developed, the vendors, along with Caltrans personnel, conduct training-fortrainers (T4T) sessions. A few of the courses, specifically the Surveys Academy, State Plane Coordinates, and Boundary Control, are taught by departmental surveyors with both technical knowledge and classroom skills.

Since one of the "minimum qualifications" for entry into the department’s survey-ladder is (L)SIT certification, and since we have over 300 licensed surveyors on staff (most field
crews are lead by a licensee), finding potential inhouse instructors has not been a problem. The mere possession of technical knowledge, however, does not guarantee success in the classroom. Very early in the process we had a vendor design a "surveyor specific" one-day training-fortrainers course. All subsequent course implementation has coupled this presentation with that of the individual class which the future instructors will teach. It addresses matters such as public speaking skills, classroom management, individual learning characteristics, "problem students" and instructor image. The T4T also encouraged team teaching with an instructor from the same or adjacent district, particularly for the first (few) sessions. Perhaps of greatest importance, we assure future instructors total support, including if necessary (which has not yet materialized) a training expert from Headquarters coming to them for quality improvement purposes. This combination of specific training and absolute support has resulted in a cadre of more than 100 in-house instructors who have, by all measures, done an outstanding job of helping their colleagues. In fiscal year 2003/2004 they will conduct 64 separate sessions of nine different courses, thereby providing 1,300 students with more than 19,000 hours of training.

Rome was not built in a day, and neither is a comprehensive training program for surveyors. A year of advance planning and three-and-a-half years of activity have been invested thus far. Of the 15 courses approved, three remain to be implemented, three are undergoing continuous improvement, and one is being expanded. It is anticipated that by June 30, 2004 only two courses will remain as targets for future delivery. One course, Error: Theory, Analysis and Adjustment, is undergoing a major revision, essentially being recreated at a significantly more complex level. Two CAiCE courses–Advanced DTM’s and Advanced Mapping–are nearing implementation, and the instructional materials for one course–Court Procedures for Surveyors–are in production. In addition, the Total Station Surveying System course is being expanded to include use of the Roadlinks software installed on newly acquired data collectors. Even after the above courses have been delivered, the process of evaluating and improving all courses will continue indefinitely. Also, the acquisition of new equipment, a never-ending necessity, will always involve expansion of existing courses or the creation of new ones. Training must remain an integral, dynamic activity.

At this time we are beginning to migrate existing courses, and those undergoing revision or initial creation, to computer and/or web-based presentation. The use of computers will further reduce the cost of delivery, preserve existing training capability beyond the "employment life" of individual instructors, and allow training to be conducted when and where needed without the constraint of economically justifying a classroom presentation. Computer applications will also provide the ability for individuals to make use of portions of courses that they need without spending time on parts they already know. And, it will facilitate the use of these materials for refresher purposes.

A comprehensive training program has been shown to make "economic sense". Employee productivity, both quantitatively and qualitatively, benefits from the employer’s investment in training. We literally can do more with less. Training also improves employee moral and job satisfaction. And, when the time comes that the department is again hiring surveyors–as it certainly will–an ongoing training program will be a unique recruitment tool.

Training a highly technical staff of surveyors, photogrammetrists and GIS Specialists requires the assistance of many people, the investment of resources, and most of all, time. Beyond everything else, however, it requires the vision and commitment of top-level management. The surveyors of the California Department of Transportation are fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.

Chuck Karayan is Chief of COS Training in the Office of Geometronics for the California DOT. He recently founded GEOLEX Consulting Services where he will direct his full-time efforts upon retirement later this year.

A 1.120Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE