Professional Capacity Building (PCB) for Communications History


Rural transportation engineers design and implement ITS installations in some of the most remote locations in California. These Rural ITS deployments are becoming increasingly complex in order to adequately address the challenges that rural transportation presents. However, even though rural communications engineering is a mission critical skill, many engineers have relatively little experience with the myriad of technologies that could be applied. Furthermore, because technologies are changing and becoming obsolete very quickly, transportation professionals find it challenging to stay abreast of the latest technologies available on the market.

The research team first conducted a literature review to gauge the amount and depth of training opportunities available to rural ITS engineers in telco and plant wired and wireless communications. IP networking fundamentals and usage was later added to the list of subject areas. After defining a list of potential topics, a needs assessment was conducted with a representative group of Caltrans ITS engineers.

A variety of training options for communications are available commercially, from academic institutions, organizations, and industry. However, opportunities to gain training particular to transportation communications is limited. There are even fewer options directly addressing professional capacity development for rural transportation communications.

All of the opportunities documented could provide valuable training and information to a transportation engineer looking to build professional capacity in telecommunications. However, because the education is so diverse, it would be extremely difficult to gain sufficient, up-to-date, and practical skills or professional capacity to adequately address the challenges of rural ITS communications outlined by Caltrans.

In addition to developing a comprehensive curriculum, part of Phase 1 of this project was dedicated to organizing and facilitating a pilot training course. Based on the information gathered in the literature review, needs assessment, and subsequent gap analysis, along with input from the project Curriculum Review Committee, the project team chose plant wireless communications as the subject of the pilot course. The subject area was narrowed further to focus on RF System Basics. To secure subject matter experts to present the pilot course, the project team chose Break-Thru Training Solutions (BTS) for course delivery. The pilot course was titled RF System Design and was presented to 10 Caltrans ITS engineers October 4th-7th, 2010. To read more about this course, see the November 4th, 2010, PCB Project update.

Two training courses addressing two different subject areas were delivered by subject matter experts during Phase 2 of the project. Optical fiber was the topic of the first course as part of a focus on plant wired technologies.   Eric Pearson of Pearson Technologies delivered Mastering Fiber Optic Network Design and Installation in September of 2012. Phase 2 then shifted to the IP networking fundamentals subject area with a September 2013 course on Ethernet and TCP/IP fundamentals taught by Andrew Walding of Cellstream, Inc. through Dashcourses International. More information about these two courses can be found in the
November 7th, 2012, PCB Project update and the November 12th, 2013, PCB Project update respectively. Additionally, the curriculum scope and sequence was revised in light of the development and delivery of the Phase two courses and the results from Phase 1.

Phase 3 of the project focused on Telco wireless technologies, or systems that are leased from telecommunications providers. In March of 2015, Scott Baxter of TONEX delivered Telecom Wireless Fundamentals to twelve Caltrans ITS engineers and technicians. To read more about this course, see the PCB Project update from April 6th, 2015. During Phase 3, the project team also conducted another needs assessment survey and gap analysis, and subsequently revised the curriculum scope and sequence based on the results.

At the start of Phase 4, the curriculum consisted of five major subjects: Plant Wireless, Telco Wireless, Plant Wired, Telco Wired, and Internet Protocol (IP) Fundamentals. After the needs assessment and gap analysis conducted in Phase 3, as well as input from the Project Technical Advisory Panel (PTAP), a sixth subject was added to the curriculum during Phase 4 – Small Data Center Design For Transportation Management Centers (TMC).

Phase 4 of the project focused on developing and procuring training in data center design for TMCs. A formal limited solicitation process was conducted to secure an appropriate training provider and deliver the course Small Data Center Design, Structured Cabling, and Grounding. Phil Isaac, Isaac Technologies, delivered 40 hours of training over five days. See the July 23rd, 2019, PCB Project update for more details.

The fifth and final phase of the project included a needs assessment working meeting and gap analysis, and the development and delivery of one training course. The principal deliverables of this project were the revised Curriculum Scope and Sequence, a Needs Assessment and Gap Analysis, an updated list of training providers, final materials from the training course, an evaluation of the training course, and a final report.

A Needs Assessment working meeting was conducted with Caltrans senior functional managers in each Caltrans district and some of the relevant offices at Caltrans Headquarters. The Curriculum was subsequently revised and enhanced. A formal limited solicitation process was conducted to secure an appropriate training provider and deliver a course in Radio Frequency (RF) Fundamentals Training. Jonathan David, Aviat Networks, delivered the five-day course with 40 hours of training. Read more about this training in the November 2nd, 2023, PCB Project update. The list of potential training providers was also updated and put in alternative formats to make it more user friendly and facilitate searches by subject matter.

Several courses were procured directly by Caltrans to demonstrate the viability of the procurement process used in the PCB project and to help transition the overall curriculum to a mainstreamed, internal Caltrans process. Hands-On Ethernet and TCP/IP Fundamentals, Mastering Fiber Optic Network Design and Installation, and Telecom Wireless Fundamentals were updated and delivered multiple times around the state. Hands-On Advanced IP Networks/Protocols was procured in a similar manner from the same trainer that delivered the basics course.

This project directed the development and evolution of a robust training curriculum that meets the needs of ITS engineers for professional capacity building in ITS communications. Technical, in-depth training courses taught by subject matter expert instructors have been delivered. These courses incorporate hands-on, practical, and relevant materials. The project has identified quality instructors and established content, process, and procedure for procuring additional training. In summary, this project has been extremely successful in workforce development for mission critical skills in ITS communications. Its impact has been immediate and will last into the future.

  • Six different training courses have been developed and delivered. These courses have all been full weeklong trainings (40 hours) with a minimum of 25 percent of hands-on laboratory work/exercises and taught by a subject matter expert with real-world experience in the training content.
  • Three needs assessments and gap analyses were conducted to develop the curriculum and maintain its relevancy. In addition, these assessments directed decisions on which courses to develop and procure initially as well as those that should be delivered again.
  • This project established quality syllabi and identified experienced instructors. This streamlined the Caltrans processes for training procurement which in turn allowed more staff to be trained. The additional training has helped build the professional capacity of the Caltrans workforce relative to ITS data communications. The courses in Optical Fiber, Telco Wireless Fundamentals, and IP Fundamentals, have been directly procured by Caltrans, with similar content and the same instructors:
    • IP Fundamentals – six additional courses
    • Optical Fiber – six additional courses, two of which were adapted to target maintenance electricians.
    • Telco Wireless Fundamentals – one additional course
  • Based on the positive experience and feedback from the IP Fundamentals course(s), Caltrans contracted with the same vendor to develop and deliver an Advanced IP Networks / Protocols training. Four of these courses have been delivered.
  • Close to 70 students have been trained through the six original courses developed and delivered through this project. An additional 244 students completed training through the courses that were repeated. These students came from around the state.
  • The breadth of content covered in these training courses is extensive. At the same time, it is practical, timely, and relevant to Caltrans transportation systems.