WINNER: The LA Metro “Operation Farm Team”


Global Transportation Infrastructure Workforce Initiative

by Phillip A. Washington


Growing up in Altgeld Gardens, a public housing complex on the south side of Chicago, Phillip Washington, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro), saw people who did not look like him building infrastructure—transportation, utilities, streets & sidewalks—in his community. As a teenager, he sought employment on those projects. He was either told that he was too late to get employment or that he was not trained to work on the projects. He came away thinking that it was a tragedy, that as a resident of the oldest public housing complex in the United States, he could not get a job or even training to help build his own community. In November 2016, the voters of Los Angeles County overwhelmingly approved LA Metro’s Measure M transportation sales tax ballot measure. The Plan will deliver 40 major projects over the next 40 years, with funding carved out for expanding bus and rail operations; local transportation projects in all 88 cities and unincorporated areas in LA County; bike and pedestrian connections; programs for seniors, students, and the disabled; and maintaining a state of good repair to keep the system in working condition. Together the projects will create 778,000 jobs over the next four decades. The question is who will fill those jobs. 50% of transportation industry professionals are eligible to retire in the next 10 years. LA Metro itself will be losing 42% of its workforce to retirement in the next 5 years; 68.5% of its workforce is over 40. Even more alarming is that 27% of its workforce could walk out the door today due to retirement.

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In the early 1920s the St. Louis Cardinals baseball club struggled to obtain players of quality from the minor leagues, outbid by teams with more money. In other words, the Cardinals had a workforce development problem. In response, the great baseball management legend Branch Rickey developed the “farm” system and forever changed the way Major League Baseball cultivates new players. In developing the farm team system, Rickey created a “production line of talent” for the Cardinals. When assessing his accomplishment, Rickey said, “I do not feel that the farming system we have established is the result of any inventive genius—it is the result of stark necessity. We did it to meet a question of supply and demand of young ballplayers.” At a time when the transportation workforce is graying, LA Metro’s Career Pathways Program is an innovative and progressive training model to prepare tomorrow’s transportation infrastructure leaders. Perhaps the biggest barrier to building a career pathways program, and in turn a transportation workforce, is getting young people to realize they can even have a career in transportation. Thus, LA Metro’s Career Pathways Program begins at a foundational level. Drawing on the same basic logic that inspired Branch Rickey’s farm team system, LA Metro initiated a concept called E3 —expose, educate, and employ. The goal is to provide students with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) programs, mentorships, hands-on learning, and other opportunities to expose and connect youth to transportation infrastructurerelated career opportunities. The centerpiece of the E3 initiative is an actual transportation school. LA Metro, in partnership with the County of Los Angeles, is developing a transportation academy, an educational and vocational program to train high school students to become the next generation of professional transportation workers. Built on 4.2 acres of land in South Los Angeles, the charter public high school (grades 9–12), the SEED LA Transportation School (SEED LA), will be the first public boarding school nationwide to focus on the future workforce needs of the global transportation infrastructure industry, and will recruit students who can most benefit from the structured boarding school experience, including from the more than 18,000 youth in foster care and nearly 78,000 homeless youth in Los Angeles County. The selected school operator, the SEED Foundation, has demonstrated success at its three established campuses in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Miami, in creating positive educational and personal experiences for young people with multiple poverty indicators. The SEED Foundation’s college enrollment rate at its existing campuses is 94% and SEED graduates are 3.5 times more likely to complete college than other low-income, first generation students. Though it will be open to all youth in Los Angeles County, SEED LA will focus on recruiting “opportunity youth” who have, or are at risk, of contact with Los Angeles County’s public safety, child protection and welfare departments, or youth who have historically been underserved educationally. A transportation infrastructure curriculum will be embedded in both the traditional academic setting and as part of after-school programming. Focus areas will include engineering, information technology, public administration and policy, operations, urban and regional planning, and logistics and supply chain management. The curriculum will be developed such that students will have the opportunity to attain industry certifications to successfully transition after graduation to transportation related careers with LA Metro, other transportation industries, or to pursue related Bachelor degrees. This is an opportunity to build a qualified workforce for the transportation industry, while giving local youth a pathway to global careers and meaningful lives.

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The pre-development budget for the School is $3.6 million, to be funded by $1 million from LA Metro, approved at its September 2018 board meeting; $1 million from LA County, approved in February 2019; and $1.6 million raised by the SEED Foundation. The LA Metro contribution will go towards the architectural and engineering work to design the project, environmental assessments, and administration (including support of the development of the school) during the pre-development phase of the project.



The SEED Foundation provided a proforma for the costs associated with the round-the-clock, boarding school services provided in a 5-day week. Once the school

is fully operational, serving 450 students, 52 staff members will be dedicated to the non-academic portion of the boarding school facility. Their duties will range from dedicated mental and physical health service delivery, facility operations and maintenance, resource coordination, and management. The total expenses associated with these personnel costs are approximately $3.76 million per year. Other costs associated with the school include debt service for the facility, estimated at approximately $2.25 million per year, food at $1.3 million per year, student transportation at $350,000 per year, and various building, programmatic and administrative-related expenses at $2.34 million per year. In October 2018, the LA Metro Board approved program/operating funds as follows: $2.875 million in FY21, $3.631 million in FY22, $4.494 million in FY23 and, once the school is fully operational, $5 million annually from FY24 through FY35. Annual budgeted commitments from LA Metro shall be no greater than $5 million. The maximum cumulative program allocation shall be no greater than $71 million. In February 2019, the Board of the County of Los Angeles formally approved the same amounts for program/ operating costs for a period of 15 fiscal years. The annual LA Metro allocation can be reduced depending on external state and federal grants sought by LA Metro, and other charitable contributions to the SEED Foundation. SEED has committed to raising any necessary funds beyond the $10 million annual operating subsidy that is required from LA Metro and the County of Los Angeles. 



The Los Angeles metropolitan area struggles with one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the country. At the same time, the transportation infrastructure industry is struggling to meet the national demand for a skilled workforce. The Transportation School effort is being implemented to meet the needs of both industry and Resilience Youth:

 “Students for whom high quality, trauma-informed education, healthcare, housing, mentoring, nutrition, recreational opportunities, and/or supportive services would have a measurable impact on well-being, motivation, and self-sufficiency and offer significant prospects they may otherwise not have been able to access.” The school will annually serve 450 students who have faced adversity in their lives. Students eligible to attend will meet criteria such as: 

1 – living below 200% of the federal poverty threshold; 

2 – experience with housing instability; 

3 – eligibility for Title IV-B dollars; and 

4 – a history of contact with the child welfare and/or juvenile justice systems through the Department of Children and Family Services or the Probation Department. 


Following the passage of Measure M, LA Metro is poised to transform the region’s transportation infrastructure and, in doing so, develop a workforce to support the planning, construction, operations, and maintenance of the expanding system. The Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) estimates that 778,000 jobs and $133.6 billion in economic output will result from transportation infrastructure projects funded by LA Metro’s Traffic Improvement Plan over the next half century. To foster a pipeline or farm team of qualified, local individuals for those projected 778,000 jobs, LA Metro is engaging youth as part of their school experience. The Career Pathways Program, through E3 and SEED LA, will change the lives of thousands of young people by providing training and skills that allow them to lead productive lives, while at the same time addressing the growing need for a skilled transportation infrastructure workforce.





  • 2018 Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey ( cps/cpsaat18b.htm) 
  • Farrington, Dick, “Branch Rickey, Defending Farms, Says Stark Necessity Forced System,” The Sporting News, December 1, 1932, p. 3. 
  • County of Los Angeles Probation and Children and Family Services Departments


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