Transportation Workforce Development for State DOTs To Address Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (Southeast Region)

By Ada Lang, UFTI Communications Coordinator

Equity, diversity and inclusion in the workforce are long-standing areas of concern, and a STRIDE-funded project titled Transportation Workforce Development for State DOTs to Address Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion recently studied that issue – with a focus on the Southeastern departments of transportation (DOT) workforce.

The pandemic emphasized the deficit as many workers retired, but it also offered an opportunity to bring new thinking to training, recruiting and workforce retention – with the goal of better reflecting the communities they operate in. In the pandemic’s aftermath, Public and private sector employees have a chance to reach out and serve new populations. Recognizing the inclusion of all identities, abilities and expertise in the workforce allows transportation agencies to relate to and address the concerns of existing users while ushering in new users.

Dr. Mehri Mohebbi, with her research in transportation equity, led the project and explained that the transportation industry lacks diversity across a variety of jobs and levels. By creating a workforce that can identify with the communities they serve, state DOTs will be better positioned to meet their goals. Other members of her research team included Dr. Virginia Sisiopiku of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Dr. Dimitra Michalaka and Dr. Kweku Brown of The Citadel.

“Diversity in the workforce considerably contributes to the business goals of transportation agencies and creates the foundation for long-term relationships with the communities those agencies serve,” she said.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) are the three main components of study and to benefit from having a framework addressing the issue, agencies must first define diversity in the workforce and ensure that their approach enhances inclusion, uplifts equity and develops a forward-thinking plan for workforce development. This research produced an EDI framework that requires three key strategies, or as the research team calls it, “The 3 Ps of Equitable Transportation Workforce Development (ETWD.)” They include:

  • Promoting employees’ engagement in diversity planning.
  • Prioritizing investments in areas lacking diversity.
  • Providing non-monetary incentives and benefits.

The illustration below shows the framework and sub-topic areas that need to be thoroughly considered towards ETWD:

Dr. Mohebbi explained that “building a diverse workforce that reflects communities’ demographics and investing in future generations of transportation professionals are a few steps transportation agencies, the role professional organizations such as the American Public Transit Association (APTA), and the private sector play is critical to move towards an inclusive work environment.“ Transportation scholars, policymakers and practitioners can also use this project’s results to develop professional training centered on equity, diversity, and inclusion within the transportation workforce, as well as aiding in recruiting and workforce retention.