Maintenance Staff Training: Increasing Internal TSMO Knowledge

Arizona Department of Transportation


  1. Incorporating maintenance into the TSMO Division was a major aspect of the TSMO program development in Arizona.
  2. High turnover and lack of cross training were the two major issues challenging maintenance units.
  3. The Signal, Lighting, and Technical Electrical (SLATE) training program is a formal criteria-based promotional ladder specific to TSMO in order to train, maintain, and retain TSMO technical staff.


When Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) created the Transportation Systems Maintenance and Operations (TSMO) Division in late 2015, the Division combined numerous existing units including maintenance functions. These maintenance units had not previously worked under the same leadership and functions were generally isolated. These maintenance units included traffic signal maintenance, lighting maintenance, traffic electronics bench, intelligent transportation systems (ITS) maintenance, tunnel operations, and roadway pump systems maintenance.


Two major issues plagued the above mentioned maintenance units – high staff turnover and lack of cross training. The staff turnover was well above the State average and filling vacancies became problematic. It was determined that these TSMO maintenance positions were more technical in nature than general roadway maintenance and required more specialized training/background particularly due to the increased use of technology in the field equipment. In combination, ADOT was not compensating for the increased qualifications resulting in many staff leaving for other agencies shortly after receiving on-the-job training.

The lack of cross training was a relic of the separate reporting structure of the pre-TSMO condition. Traffic signal staff worked and focused only on traffic signals while ITS staff worked only on ITS features despite obvious commonalities. Geographic boundaries also played a part with statewide staff working side-by-side with Regional/District staff but rarely assisting each other.

Due to the fractured structure and low pay, ADOT was not able to attract or retain the staff necessary to troubleshoot and repair systems Statewide. With a limitation on the number of staff allowed, TSMO was in a position were the Division needed independent staff that were skilled and motivated to modernize the workforce.


The concept behind the ADOT Signal, Lighting, and Technical Electrical (SLATE) training program was to develop a formal criteria-based promotional ladder specific to TSMO in order to train, maintain, and retain TSMO technical staff. The training program was setup in a multi-matrix format that emphasized cross training in the lower levels and highly specialized training in the higher levels. Entry-level staff would get exposure and training in more functions and specialize as they spent more time with the Division. Internal promotions were built in to the program allowing non-competitive advancements for new hires for the first 2-3 years based on completion of the required training. With the increase in specialized training, ADOT was able to justify higher pay for staff retention and staff attraction.


The new structure was developed based on revised position descriptions and knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA). All TSM&O maintenance staff within the technical electrical fields were transferred to the new common position – SLATE Technician. The classification has 5 tiers: SLATE Tech I, SLATE Tech II, SLATE Tech III, SLATE Area Supervisor, and SLATE Manager. Non-competitive promotions can occur to promote and retain high performers up to the SLATE Tech III level provided that training is complete, a time of service requirement is fulfilled, and there are no poor marks on annual performance evaluations. Area Supervisors and Manager positions require competitive interview processes to promote or hire.

The training associated with these positions was developed with a focus on cross training but also allowing very specialized KSA requirements to each functional area. There are 4 separate subcategories to the SLATE training matrix – Systems, Tunnel, Electronics, and Pump Stations. The Systems training focuses on traffic signals, roadway lighting, and ITS field devices while the Electronics training focuses more on component-level repair of the equipment. Tunnel training is specific to ventilation, high voltage, and lighting and Pump Stations is specific to engines, pumps, gear drives and controls. Common to all categories is a core set of classes providing base knowledge in signal operations, ITS maintenance, high voltage, and aerial lifts. This base knowledge allows for some sharing of resources across units.

Due to the highly specialized technical training, many of the new classes cannot be taught by traditional methods and there are not many viable options for vendor training. To resolve the issue, TSMO created Skills Evaluations for many SLATE classes rather than rely on classroom memorization. These evaluations rely heavily on mentoring by internal senior staff and on-the-job exposure. Once adequate time and practice has been gained, Managers and Supervisors test the Technician in a series of procedures/skills and approve the training requirement based on successful completion of the requirements.


The new SLATE classification and training matrices were implemented within a year of the TSMO Division being created. Feedback from staff has been positive and turnover within the signal, lighting, and technical electrical maintenance units has reduced significantly. The increases in pay that were granted administratively based on the new structure have allowed ADOT to retain our high performers who continue to innovate and improve our systems. We continue to learn and adjust as staff move through the non-competitive promotion cycle mostly related to the skills evaluations. Maintenance staff has now taken an increased ownership not only in their individual progress but the group as a whole.

Organizational Capability Element

  • Education, Training & Professional Activities
  • Organizational Structure/Staffing
  • Staff Development

Content Type

  • Case Studies & Lessons Learned

Publishing Organization

  • NOCoE

Document Downloads

Issue Date
July 10th, 2019
Downloads Back to Search Results