ODOT’s mobile training unit takes to the road
One of the greatest challenges the Ohio Department of Transportation faces today is how to offer training to a 7,000 member workforce spread across 88 counties.
“In order to be competitive, we need to invest as much in our people as we do in our capital equipment,” says ODOT Director Jerry Wray. “Constant, on-going training is the key to helping our workforce become the best it can be.”
ODOT believes in providing as many training opportunities as possible for its staff members in order to help them gain the most from their jobs and to better serve the public, according to Wray.
When it became clear that significant problems existed in trying to provide computer training to employees across the state, the department turned to its own workforce for a creative solution. Using the quality management principles of participation and teamwork, ODOT people introduced a new concept in training.
The result was the creation of the Mobile Training Unit (MTU), a specially equipped tractor-trailer designed to bring complete computer training facilities to ODOT employees anywhere in the state.
In 1992, the department’s Division of Information Technology (DolT) formed a work team to address the problems of providing up-to-date computer training to ODOT e-mployees everywhere. One of the largest agencies in the state, ODOT has 12 district offices and numerous smaller offices and garages throughout Ohio.
As many as 2,500 employees a year from these various offices would have to travel to the central office in Columbus for additional computer training. This cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel time, meals and hotel accommodations.
Simply taking computers and instructors to other offices did not solve the problem, since those offices often lacked the space needed to set up makeshift classes. DolT needed to provide a cost-effective way to bring a computer training facility to ODOT employees.
So, a work team consisting of members of DoIT and interested parties from other sections began developing plans for a mobile unit.
Originally, the team members thought of converting a school bus for the task. But, realizing that such a bus would not be comfortable in cold weather conditions, they next considered buying a used field office trailer that would be modified and outfitted as a classroom and transported with a semi-tractor.
Working with the idea led to generating design specifications for building a complete tractor-trailer unit, one tailor-made to fill a unique role. The job of building the MTU was contracted to OBS Specialty Vehicles, a division of Ohio Bus Sales, Canton, Ohio. The completed MTU was unveiled in early 1995 and has been in operation since then.
The MTU is a mobile, state-of-the-art training facility. The classroom is housed in a 48-foot trailer. When detached from the tractor, the trailer rests on an adjustable hydraulic system to keep it level. A collapsible aluminum boarding platform is located on the side opening of the trailer to provide an entrance and an exit.
At the back of the MTU is a special hydraulic platform/lift, which provides access for the physically challenged and meets the legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The MTU was designed to function in both favorable and unfavorable conditions. It has a power line, which can be connected to nearby buildings, but it also has its own diesel-powered generator. A phone hook up provides computer access to ODOT’s Local Area Network (LAN) in Columbus.
Where regular phone line access is not available, the MTU can use its own cellular phone hook-up. Additionally, the MTU has its own heating and cooling systems to provide a comfortable environment.
The classroom itself consists of 16 work stations, each with a Pentium computer and a fully equipped instructor station. A variety of advanced training disciplines are being offered in the MTU, including:
* Information Technology;
* Personal Computer Hardware/ Software;
* LAN Training;
* Client Server Applications (i.e., Bridge Management Systems);
* CADD (Computer Aided and Drafting);
* Phase II APS (Automated Purchasing System);
* Payment Card System;
* Safety; and
* other non-technical training.
Since it began operation, the MTU has impressed both users and observers alike. It has been so popular with employees that district offices now request the unit on a frequent basis.
Representatives of agencies from other states also have expressed interest in the MTU.
ODOT now regularly fields inquiries from other agencies within Ohio concerning the unit.
“The MTU is an example of the kind of creative problem-solving that is possible when you give workers a chance to design their own futures” Wray says. “Who knows better than the people who will operate the unit and take classes in it what is needed to get the job done?”
The MTU is operated by ODOT’s Office of Training. The unit’s current assignments are taking it to ODOT district offices around the state. It is also being used in demonstrations to interested parties outside of state government.