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Steps for transportation workforce diversity outlined in TRB’s research

This is part 3 of a TRB Blog series on equity. Part 1 explores resources around socioeconomic equity. Part 2 delves into resources around transportation accessibility for people with disabilities. This part highlights resources for improving inclusion and diversity in the transportation workforce.

Like nearly every other industry, transportation budgets have been affected by the changes taken to reduce the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). In fact, from airports to public transportation, many sectors have taken deep hits. But, because of society’s reliance on the transportation system, all hope is that transportation and the jobs it provides will come back strong. TRB’s latest video brings to life the exciting ways a career in transportation can truly change the world for the better.

Focusing on more diversity and inclusivity is a key element to building a strong, resilient workforce, as TRB noted in 2019 Critical Issues in Transportation. As our systems become more technologically complex, the future workforce will need higher skill levels, a more diverse base of disciplinary perspectives, and adaptability.

Building the business and social case for diversity
Diverse and inclusive workplaces have been shown to be more innovative in problem solving. At a time when we are all looking to improve resiliency, these skills are especially valuable. The TRB Airport Cooperative Research Program’s (ACRP) Guidance for Diversity in Airport Business Contracting and Workforce provides suggestions and tools to assist in identifying and quantifying the benefits, costs, and regional economic impact of diverse business contracting for airports. Airport workforce diversity can mean more vendor options and more direct outreach to the local community. Overall, a diverse workforce can improve the airport’s reputation and visibility, which might result in increased passenger traffic, publicity, and revenue per the report.

“The case for business diversity is well known. More businesses means more competition for bids, and that means a bigger bang for your public agency buck,” says Mara Rosales, Attorney, Owner and Manager, Rosales Law Partners LLP and co-author of the recent ACRP report. “We’re seeing that more agencies want to do more than promote themselves, they want to understand social responsibility and acknowledge that having robust, effective, diverse workforces and contractor pools is good at all levels of government.”

In relation to current events, Rosales adds, “With the pandemic, it’s clearer that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. We also know that a small business vehicle is an easier path to successful entrepreneurship and wealth accumulation for women and racial minorities.”

“The current downturn in airport traffic has resulted in significant impacts on both airport concessions and construction firms. To help offset the adverse effects, Airports should look to ways to assist like ensure small businesses are being paid on time, evaluate whether contractors can be transitioned to higher priority work instead of cut, consider rent and other economic relief to concessionaires and assess how changes to projects in the pipeline will impact the economic health of the community, particularly small and micro-small business enterprises.”

ACRP’s A Guidebook for Increasing Diverse and Small Business Participation in Airport Business Opportunities notes the clear connection between a healthy business and the well-being of the community in which it operates. The report indicates, that including minority- and women-owned businesses and disadvantaged business enterprises along with other small businesses allow an airport to realize new business opportunities and improve its reputation. These connections also boost networking connections among suppliers and customers. As a result, the community may benefit from improved local jobs and a sharing of the wealth.

Agencies looking to build a business case for increasing diversity in the workforce can find advice in an article published in TR News.

Building a workforce and leadership that reflects demographics
The majority of TRB and Cooperative Research Program reports on workforce development mentions the drastically decreasing transportation workforce numbers due to the Baby Boomer generation’s retirements. Many of the reports come to the conclusion that attracting a more diverse workforce is crucial both for keeping up with demand, but also for improving the industry as a whole.

There are economic and societal benefits to having key positions in transportation reflect the current and future labor market. TRB’s The Workforce Challenge: Recruiting, Training, and Retaining Qualified Workers for Transportation and Transit Agencies outlines suggestions like accommodating multiple career paths, establishing a pleasant work environment and work/life balance, emphasizing training and further education along with attractive financial and benefits packages as ways to help agencies meet those goals. These elements are noted time and again in reports on diversifying the workforce.

Gender gaps in the STEM field in the U.S. also threaten the transportation field. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine offers recommendations for systemic action by higher education institutions, funding agencies, and Congress to address these gaps in Promising Practices for Addressing the Underrepresentation of Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

To better understand the make-up of the transportation workforce, TRB’s Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) and National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) issued a joint report, Racial and Gender Diversity in State DOTs and Transit Agencies, examining the existing baseline of U.S. transportation agency workforce diversity in the mid-2000s.

Positions of leadership require experienced professionals. TCRP’s Attracting, Retaining, and Advancing Women in Transit looks at outreach in schools, as well as further steps to increasing the number of women prepared to become seasoned transportation professionals. According to the report, outlining an organizational goal for hiring women as well as reviewing hiring practices to specifically recruit women and to end any ingrained gender-based stereotypes are immediate steps to more successfully attract qualified female candidates. Safety concerns—including characteristics of the job, proper facilities for women’s health, and addressing a possible prevalence of sexual harassment toward women—play a role.

Once members of underrepresented groups have experience in the field and are in an inclusive workplace, these individuals will be in a position to lead successfully. Agencies seeking to diversify their leadership can make use of TCRP’s Practical Resources for Recruiting Minorities for Chief Executive Officers at Public Transportation Agencies. Authors of the report contend that unique methods for executive talent acquisition and strategic human resource management are needed because public transit agencies face challenges in identifying a qualified pool for CEO positions.

An upcoming TCRP resource guide will include successful policies, plans, and practices in improving diversity and inclusion programs with the goal of helping agencies to improve the public transportation workplace, reduce harassment and discrimination, foster better decision-making, increase innovation, and reduce barriers that affect industry success.

Building strong foundations with students
By better understanding the academic programs producing the next generation of aviation professionals, airports can develop proactive efforts to promote the airport profession to aviation programs in their local area and influence young people to seriously consider airports as a viable career path. ACRP’s Promoting Aviation Career Education in High Schools and Community Colleges and Developing Innovative Strategies for Aviation Education and Participation both detail methods and partnerships that can enhance the quality of graduates and stimulate interest in aviation careers in all students, including those as young as elementary school.

A shift towards a more intentional, inclusive, and evidence-based approach to mentoring, as highlighted in the National Academies report The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM, could engage and help retain a broader group of students in the STEM fields. Mentored students pursue graduate study more frequently than students without mentoring support and are more likely to stay in STEMM. Mentorship has also been shown to improve career success and satisfaction. Effective mentorship for students from underrepresented groups enhances their recruitment into and retention in research-related career paths.

Promising programs and effective strategies that have the highest potential return on investment for millions of students of color are identified in the National Academies’ Minority Serving InstitutionsThe report urges the nation to turn to these institutions as high-priority resources for STEM talent. These nearly 700 institutions provide a gateway to higher education and the workforce, particularly for underrepresented students of color and those from low-income and first-generation-to-college backgrounds. Despite their limited resources, MSIs have been successful in providing a multifaceted return on investment for students, communities, and the STEM workforce.

TRB’s role in reaching the next generation of transportation professionals
TRB is committed to ensuring diversity and inclusiveness in transportation. The TRB Minority Student Fellows Program funds students from select minority-serving institutions to attend and present their research at the TRB Annual Meeting help them engage in TRB’s network of transportation professionals. An evaluation of the program published in Transportation Research Record (TRR) takes a survey of mentees and reflections by those involved in the program and finds that it successfully increases fellows’ exposure to TRB, encourages ongoing TRB participation, and, contributes to the mentees’ career growth.

The TCRP Ambassador Program assists in reaching an expanded segment of the transportation community that would otherwise have limited access to its resources, including a partnership with the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO).

In looking at even earlier career professionals very close to home, TRB works with TransSTEM Academy – Francis L. Cardozo Education Campus. TransSTEM Academy links grades 6-12 to the real world through experiences that instill the value of education and careers in the transportation industry. TRB has hired a number of summer interns from TransSTEM before they begin their higher education. You may have seen the students at TRB’s Annual Meeting at a booth in the exhibit hall, showcasing their current projects.

Be included
TRB seeks collaborators in keeping equity, diversity, and inclusion at the top of transportation research. TRB webinars regularly feature topics on diversifying the transportation workforce or including disadvantaged business enterprises within transportation.

Get involved with future Cooperative Research Program work. Look for ongoing information on new projects, requests for proposals, or to nominate yourself or others to serve on a project panel. Submit problem statement research ideas and find new announcements in TRB’s weekly newsletter or on the homepages for ACRP, NCHRP, and TCRP.

Become a friend of TRB’s Standing Committee on Contracting Equity or Standing Committee on Workforce Development and Organizational Excellence. TRB’s Transportation and Society Section committees offer several options for addressing community, social, and cultural issues. Everyone interested is invited—TRB believes that its mission is enhanced by the innovation and creativity that is fostered by embracing diverse and inclusive ideas and cultures.

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Contact:
Beth Ewoldsen, Content Strategist
Transportation Research Board
202-334-2353; [email protected]
Published August 10, 2020

This Summary Last Modified On: 8/7/2020

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