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Eight PennDOT staff recognized at IdeaLink Awards ceremony

December 18, 2019 12:00 AM
By: Richard Kirkpatrick

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Eight PennDOT employees who submitted their IdeaLink proposals to suggest leaner and better ways of doing their jobs were honored at a ceremony in November at the Keystone Building in Harrisburg.

Secretary Leslie S. Richards and Executive Deputy Secretary Yassmin Gramian presided at the ceremony Nov. 13 and were joined by Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration George McAuley and Deputy Secretary for Planning Larry Shifflet.

"Their ideas are the 'best of the best' of all ideas implemented during this year's nomination period and demonstrate the power of employee engagement in improving and modernizing PennDOT in the areas of efficiency, safety, morale, customer service, costs savings and revenue generation," Richards said. "I am truly honored to lead this team of highly dedicated and motivated employees."

The awardees, presented with a commemorative IdeaLink license plates on a wooden base:

  • Tracy Schmucker, administrative assistant, District 10. Employee thank you cards for great work.
  • Jerry Skelton, Bureau of Driver Licensing, Erie Driver License Center, for window clings to explain available services for customers.
  • Irene T. Reed, District 5-4, Monroe County, high-visibility safety vests for litter clean-up volunteers.
  • Warren P. Dell, District 9-5, Huntingdon County, tandem truck steps, to enhance safety.
  • Christopher L. Robinson, District 10-2, Butler County, streamlined training forms for flagger on-the-job performance evaluations.
  • Clifton "Kip" Charles, District 2, improved IT application for Right-Of-Way Plans.
  • Christopher Kapitan Jr. and Arlan Thomas, District 9-7, Somerset County, PennDOT Workers' Memorial Logo.

"I am extremely excited at the opportunity to recognize great ideas generated by the PennDOT staff," McAuley said in his opening remarks. Noting that continuous process improvement or Lean thinking, under any name, has been a commitment of PennDOT's for many years, he underscored that, "The greatest asset PennDOT has is its people. … There are a lot of great thoughts out there and IdeaLink sets the stage to encourage ideas to the forefront."

Gramian applauded the "thoughts, passion and creativity" of the award winners.

Shifflet noted that just a few feet from the ceremony was the permanent PennDOT Workers' Memorial that displays the photo and story of each PennDOT employee who lost their life in the line of duty.

"Our people work long, hard hours, often under difficult and in many respects hazardous weather and traffic conditions …," he said. "It takes fortitude and guts to come back day after day and face these challenges. But, that is what our fine people do, and they take justifiable pride in what they do. The innovation and talent we honor today reflects that and what PennDOT is all about."

Josh Easton, director of transformation for Governor Tom Wolf, and Colby Clabaugh, executive director for the Governor's Office of Performance Excellence, offered their praise for the program and the ceremony.

"Employee driven suggestions and improvements are the heart and soul of a Lean culture, so as members of OPE we were excited and honored to attend the recent IdeaLink awards ceremony," they said. "Through IdeaLink, PennDOT employees across the state connect to share ideas [that can become] best practices, and have an opportunity to be recognized for their efforts. This a great program, and we encourage everyone at PennDOT to get involved!"

All the awardees expressed their gratitude for the recognition.

"I appreciate someone taking note of my idea," Irene Reed said.

"The big take away was a lot of other people are thinking along the same lines …," Christopher Robinson said. "It is incredibly important that people with the feet on the ground, who know the problems we face, can come up with the simple solutions."

Showing an example of the length to which PennDOT staff will go to deliver the very best for the people of Pennsylvania, awardees Christopher Kapitan Jr. and Arlan Thomas were part of the Somerset County crews who worked all day until midnight plowing eight inches of snow just prior to the awards ceremony.

They were part of the team working with foreman Robert Gensimore, who lost his life last year when he was hit while placing flares on Interstate 99 during a snowstorm.

They had developed the idea for the logo to honor fallen PennDOT people that is now widely circulated across the state.

"We needed to do this for we in the department to honor our family (of fallen colleagues)," Kapitan said.

District 9 Assistant District Executive David Kammerer accompanied his three staff members who were honored at the ceremony.

"I am very proud and honored to have three recipients out of District 9," he said. "There are a lot of great ideas coming from the field staff, and we need to recognize these wonderful ideas."

PennDOT District 2 Executive Karen Michael, who accompanied her award winner, said the ceremony was wonderful and noted how IdeaLink builds on a quality emphasis stretching back decades at PennDOT.

"I am glad to have people who know what they are doing, [and having them] speak up and say, 'We can do better,'" she said. "It will inspire more to happen in the districts."

Editor's Note: Secretary Richards last day with the department was Dec. 5, 2019.  Executive Deputy Secretary Gramian has since assumed the role of acting Secretary.

2019 IdeaLink Awards Ceremony

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