Putting the focus on workforce sustainability

The title of this issue’s Chairman’s Column reflects one of the three key pillars of the UCA’s new strategic plan. Workforce Sustainability is a key thrust in our strategic objectives to promote the industry and provide a competent workforce. Now, I tend to sometimes shy away from “sustainability” because it tends to be used too often. In this case, I really like it because there is a bit of a double entendre effect: our programs have the joint objective of sustaining a workforce for the industry, as well as sustaining members within the workforce.

There are five UCA programs that are part of the Workforce Sustainability pillar. These are important programs for the future of the industry, that all hold special emphasis for me as Chair. Listed alphabetically:

  • Down for That
  • Inclusion and diversity
  • Teach the Professors
  • Women in Tunneling
  • Young Members

It’s my duty as Chair to directly support these initiatives. Each program revolves around drawing people to our great industry and empowering and supporting them when they get here.

Down for That, helmed by Paul Schmall of Keller, can best be understood by visiting www., which I encourage you to do. It’s a robust platform for students, professors and industry professionals, providing a myriad of resources to understand what’s going on in tunneling and to help inform and inspire curious students to learn more, to put tools in their hands, and to encourage them to join the industry upon graduation. Scholarship opportunities can be found at Down for That. Tunnel project tours can be arranged and industry profiles are provided.

Mike Mooney of Colorado School of Mines leads the Teach the Professors program. Recognizing that their school/college mentors impact heavily on what career path a student will take, we understand that we, in turn, need to impact and empower those mentors with knowledge of tunneling and what a career can offer their protégées. This program runs annually, is associated with our conferences in the summer (RETC and NAT), and is back on for NAT 2022 (June 19-22, Philadelphia, PA) after a COVID-19 pandemic hiatus.

The Young Members (YM) group is designed for the industry’s great minds in the age group of 35 and under. Vojtech Ernst Gall, of Gall-Zeidler, currently chairs this committee. Building from an ITA initiative, our UCA group is known for its ongoing webinar series and social gatherings at conferences that enable this cohort to network and support each other.

The rest of us need to assist as many young members of the industry to connect with the YMs. As I travel to various projects, I meet new entrants to tunneling. Curious, bright, energetic all, I’m always a bit disappointed to find how many of them do not know about the YMs or even the UCA. So, fellow UCA members, please consider making a special effort to encourage your young colleagues to join UCA, to join the YMs and to attend conferences. Yes, there is a cost involved and funds are not unlimited. I understand. At the same time, isn’t it better to make that investment now and retain that resource in the industry to sustain the growth that we are seeing? We are always challenged in seeking people. Let’s develop what we have. Some companies, I have observed, are very good at this. Let’s all aspire to that goal.

Leadership of the Women in Tunneling (WIT) committee has recently changed into the hands of Elisa Comis, of McMillen-Jacobs. She has also accepted double-duty and represents the UCA on SME’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee. WIT has grown from earnest beginnings into a flourishing team with increasing membership and plans for the future. Anyone who attended the WIT event at RETC in Las Vegas had the opportunity to network, hear good speakers and feel the momentum that is building. I expect the events at future conferences to only grow, and anyone is welcome to attend. I hope that all women in the industry may engage with this group. I guarantee that there will be mutual benefit.

Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) is a very important topic for us all, and a very broad one. Much has been and will continue to be written about it, and forward-thinking discussions take place on an ongoing basis across all facets of society and industry. I’m pleased that we have dynamic representation from the UCA, leading our perspective with the SME. I&D is the right thing to do, for individuals, groups and the industry as a whole. At the end of the day, it’s also good business.

All of these programs are at various stages of gestation on their journeys to grow, to evolve, to contribute, to make a difference. All are open to input and participation. Should you wish to learn more, or contribute, please do not hesitate to reach out to the leaders mentioned above, or to myself. You’ll find a receptive audience.

Tunnel on.

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