Thursday, November 14, 2013

RTA's Dial-a-Ride Contractor and the Inland Empire Job Market

Source: Riverside Transit Agency
The Riverside Transit Agency's own newsletter dubbed The RTA Reader reported that Veolia Transportation was awarded a new contract to operate RTA's Dial-A-Ride services. The current contractor, Southland Transit Inc, operated the DAR service since 2006 and has been undergoing unsustainable losses. The provider requested RTA to withdraw from the DAR agreement and bidding was opened last May. After a tough and thorough selection process between four vendors, Veolia was found to be the most qualified and best value provider. Veolia has a long resume of operating transit fleets under contract all throughout the Southland. We'll keep a watch on what improvements take place aboard Riverside County's paratransit services.

The selection process between the bidding vendors involved a challenging inquiry and examination process which is a sound way of balancing quality contracted services with cost control. RTA designed this process to be challenging, with candidates presented with real operational scenarios requiring them to demonstrate their experience and critical thinking skills. The process allowed RTA to base candidate scores on these facts and not on costs alone. The results: Management teams from two vendors were unable to demonstrate a level of expertise that met the RTA's expectations. One vendor failed to make the full team of management candidates available for interviews. RTA didn't disclose the specifics, but here are the technical scores between the four:

First Transit - 82.5
Ride Right LLC - 33.3
SCR Medical Transportation - 31.6
Veolia Transportation Inc. - 92.6

Because Veolia scored considerably higher during the interviews, RTA engaged the vendor to negotiate the contract to better match the competition: $69,011,213 over a 3-year base period. Such challenging examination processes are certainly necessary to help keep contract and government employee hiring fair and equal with quality workers at competitive marketplace rates and wages. Yes, some of the politics and the trivial steps toward getting extra helping hands for a government agency should be debated and streamlined, but the specifics are not for us to decide as a transit advocacy group. However, there is one fact that is not questionable: Getting a job in the Inland Empire marketplace is a lot harder under a soft economy and trivial policies that obstruct growth need to be revisited.

The IE Marketplace Job Interview of today

Like the Dial-a-Ride contract, similar pre-job challenges are abundant in the Inland Empire marketplace since there are still far more workers than jobs. The Press Enterprise Columnist and licensed therapist Mitchell Rosen wrote this piece on situations where job seekers often feel humiliated during a job interview. Because the job-to-worker ratio leans more toward workers than jobs, the local economy is an employer's market. When a job gets posted, people looking for work flood the employer with applications, making such tough screening processes necessary for selection.

While the employer is the dominant party under a soft economy and thus can control salaries and place job applicants through additional examinations and inquiries to screen the pool, it's certainly wrong to bully or humiliate them as pointed by Rosen. To be fair, many if not most interviewing managers are civil to their candidates and humiliation is not deliberate. What is actually happening is that since so many job seekers are applying for a single position, employers have to resort to hard interview questions, scoring systems, and examinations to help narrow down the candidate pool. When a candidate goes in for an interview and expects a traditional Q&A-type setting only to be confronted in answering to a real-time scenario, he/she might have a sense of humiliation of not being prepared to answer such tough questions. Such reaction can be discouraging to hard working people looking for work.

In a robust economy, job applicant pools are smaller and starting salaries are higher because employers actually need to recruit them.

In the late 1990's when the economy was soaring, a local McDonald's had such a high employee turnover that the franchise owner offered a higher start-up wage for students with higher GPA's. It was almost a given to see a "Now Hiring" sign on the window. The turnover was so high that hard working crew members who elected to stay trained and advanced easily through the company within their first year of employment and the raises that went along with them. At one point, the majority of hourly Swing Managers, McDonald's entry position into management at that time, were under age 21. That position was just below the Assistant Manager position, a post that offers a livable full time salary.

Such perks, employee retention, and job advancements are not needed in today's soft economy. However positive changes may happen as the logistics sector grows. It's true that many warehouse jobs are currently paying entry-level wages, but as the job-to-worker ratio leans more toward jobs and the number of unemployed people seeking work goes down, warehouse employers will be in a position where they have to raise salaries and advance hard working people through the company in order to fill open job positions, retain employees, and control costly turnover. Be sure to check out the latest development of the GRID logistics proposal in Long Beach and how it can be integrated into the Inland Empire.

Job growth is vital for a productive transit system as such workers combined with a strong economy pays for the system. Local and state officials need to see what policy changes need to take place to get the Inland Empire's economy growing again without the sprawl. Next week, we'll continue to watch over the growth of the logistics sector in Moreno Valley so that such development does not translate into undesired problems such as pollution, traffic congestion or corruption.

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