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How To Attract, Retain and Develop Transportation Workforce

How To Attract, Retain and Develop a Transportation Workforce

April 8, 2022
The National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine said that working on problems of societal importance was essential to attract people to the industry.

Today, attracting qualified, technically competent, culturally sensitive, and motivated planning staff is challenging, states the  National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine in a recent whitepaper.

The authors note that the transportation industry often loses mid-level supervisors and managers, perhaps the most valuable staff members with respect to experience because there is no clear career path. 

In the whitepaper, Attracting Retaining, and Developing the Transportation Workforce, the research examined the use of talent profiles in an overall talent management process to overcome some of the personnel challenges transportation companies. 

The study found that different generations of transportation planners exhibit different values and desires with respect to the work environment. Gen Z planners are very different in terms of attitudes, skills, and values compared to baby boomers. And structures haven't really been updated. 

Looking at Gen Z the report offers their findings with regard to the characteristics of this group: 

  •  The most racially diverse entry-level employee pool of all generations
  •  The most educated entry-level employee pool of all generations
  •  Technology savvy
  •  Often seeking more personal interaction, especially with authority
  •  More socially, culturally, and environmentally aware and concerned
  • Prioritizing job security as the most important factor in job satisfaction
  •  Expecting opportunities for recognition and professional/career growth
  •  More comfortable with and often expecting flexible work arrangements

With regard to how this group chooses where to work the research found that "working on problems of interest and of societal importance was the most noted factor by transportation agency staff respondents in attracting a transportation planner to a planning position." Other factors such as job location, working with first-rate professionals, and salary/benefits were rated as second motivators."

Given the preferences of this future workforce, the authors offered these observations in order to help the industry plan its talent pipeline. 

1. The characteristics of the more recent employee cohorts are dramatically different than previous cohorts. Their expectations on job structure, work environment, supervision, and interactions influence how they perform in their jobs. They tend not to enjoy or respond favorably to rigid structures, non-transparent communications, and structured interactions. Over time these characteristics will likely run up against many of the office and work structures that are common in many transportation agencies.

2. Every group that was part of this study emphasized the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workforce and in the work planners do. This is especially true in communities where a large portion if not the majority of the population is diverse. Many respondents to surveys, interviews and a focus group used as part of this research made it clear that transportation planning staff serving such communities should look like the communities they serve.

3. The importance of an agency having well-defined planning career paths cannot be understated. Both senior and young respondents to the surveys and interviews emphasized the need to see a clear path forward for career advancement. This was especially strongly stated by young planners.

4. The work-life balance is a very real desire for young planners. With COVID-19 restrictions acting as a catalyst to working from home, it seems likely that young planners in particular will be looking for more flexible work environments in the future.

5.  The environment for transportation planning will likely change dramatically over the next 5 to 10 years. The rapid change in technology, environmental concerns, and societal issues will influence much of what interests young planners. Agencies that do not provide planners exposure to such changes and the corresponding issues will likely have more challenges in attracting and retaining planners.

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