Illinois Tollway partnering with private businesses to train diverse contractor in emerging technologies

Illinois Tollway partnering with private businesses to train diverse contractor in emerging technologies

His company typically focuses on project management services, but Ezekiel Garnett said he and other company leaders have been looking for opportunities to expand their business into new, rapidly growing technologies.

That’s why he signed up for a new class offered by the Illinois Tollway as part of its Emerging Technology Program that provided hands-on training in installing and servicing closed-circuit TV and video surveillance systems.

The recent two-and-a-half-day training program for local contractors administered by Axis Communications has Garnett studying ways to broaden the services provided by his company, Enspyre Management Services, to include working on surveillance and camera systems.

“The Axis training opened up a whole new realm of potential customers,” said Garnett, who serves as chief operating officer of the Chicago-based company. “The training changed our outlook on the field by giving us more of an understanding of the nuts-and-bolts things we need to understand about the products, how they work and the practical applications. We wouldn’t have that knowledge otherwise.”

That’s a key goal of the Emerging Technology Program: Offering training in specialized fields to small, diverse contractors so they can then use those skills to compete for work on projects being done by the Tollway and other organizations.

“It’s about taking small firms and giving them the opportunity to learn a new skill, a new trade, a new ability—and then apply that ability to assist the Tollway and other departments of transportation as they grow,” said Chief of Diversity and Strategic Development Terry Miller. “It’s a chance for small firms to get a leg up by being the first to learn these critical skills.”

Axis Communications, an industry leader in developing video surveillance, closed-circuit camera and access control technologies, is working with the Tollway as part of that program to train small and diverse firms in using, installing and linking video surveillance and closed-circuit TV systems.

“This is going to give (the contractors) a lot of information and know-how they’ll be able to take back and use across a lot of different arenas,” said Steve Kennedy, Axis Communications regional sales manager in Chicago. “The training does involve some of our camera equipment but it also gets into networking and installation details—and that’s something they’re going to be able to take back and use in some of their new business initiatives.”

Graduates of the program like Garnett are certified by Axis as being qualified to install, maintain and network the advanced equipment on which they were trained, which he said increases the credibility of his firm when it seeks contracts from potential customers—including the Tollway.

“It lets the customer know these guys have been vetted, they’ve been trained, they know what they’re doing,” Garnett said. “That credibility is essential because customers have many choices in who they want to provide services.”

As part of the Emerging Technology Program, the Tollway partners with larger construction firms and equipment manufacturers to provide virtual and hands-on training sessions with sophisticated equipment, including automated machinery that uses 3D modeling for earthwork and grading projects, and high-tech closed circuit television and video surveillance systems.

This training is enhanced by the Tollway advertising some contracts exclusively for small businesses featuring these types of technology and offering incentives to offset the cost of renting or purchasing that new equipment and required software.

Going a step further, the Tollway connects larger, more experienced businesses to work with small contractors to work together on training and using new technology and equipment in short-term partnerships that aren’t tied to a specific contract. The partnerships allow small, diverse contractors to access training and equipment owned by the larger firms so they can become familiar with using the latest technology and then compete for future contracts that include using those skills.

The Tollway is expanding its use of video and camera surveillance along its roadways as it continues with its 16-year, $15 billion Move Illinois capital program—and sees a growing need for skilled contractors to do that work, said Rob Glaz, the Tollway’s manager of intelligent transportation systems (ITS).
“By learning and training in these new technologies, you essentially go right to the front of the line to get an opportunity to use those skills to help the Tollway and other agencies continue to be ahead of the curve when it comes to using these technologies,” Glaz said. 

Another Axis graduate, Matthew Andersen, now sees that as a goal for the Chicago firm where he works. Andersen said the training he received makes his company better able to compete for future contracts involving camera and surveillance technology—either on projects for the Tollway or other organizations.

“After going through this training, I definitely understand the software capabilities much more and the camera capabilities much more,” said Andersen, who is a project manager for Adelante Construction Group, which specializes in commercial electrical work but wants to broaden the work it does. “I know the Tollway is going to be doing more camera work in the future and that’s where we want to plant a flag, if we can.”

Creating more qualified, skilled contractors benefits the Tollway when it comes to letting contracts for new project that include advanced technologies.

“What we try to do is build competition, and the more robust competition you have, the greater check you have on cost,” Miller said. “Costs won’t skyrocket in a room full of eager competitors-- so what we want to do is create a room of eager competitors.”

The training offered in the Emerging Technology Program will help small businesses develop new skills that will help them compete for contracts as the Tollway wraps up its current Move Illinois program and begins planning for its next capital program, which is expected to include a greater use of newer technologies, Tollway officials said.

“We’ve got to start a new capital plan, which means new roads in a big way, it means smarter roads in a big way,” Miller said of the program. “This is ground floor for learning new, exciting technologies.”