How Can the Industry Generate and Retain Interest?

May 16, 2007

Unique, exciting, and fun professional and personal development opportunities can be used as tools to generate new interest in transportation and to retain the interest of practicing professionals.


In a culture where lawyers, doctors, teachers, police, and fireman are advertised as those with the power to change the world, it is critical to also expose the next generation of professionals to the planning and engineering fields. Given the opportunity, many will see how the infrastructure they use everyday impacts everyone’s life and will recognize that there is an exciting career path where they can have a direct impact on the lifestyle in the communities where they will work.

One of the best places to generate new interest in a profession is at the university, where individuals are eager to learn about career opportunities. Student organizations, related courses, and career fairs present ideal locations for individuals or various organizations to introduce students to their professional field and for students to start learning about various employment and career opportunities to consider upon graduation.

Another helpful tie between the professional world and the university world is the relationships individuals carry on after graduation. Relationships built between professors and practicing professionals allow both parties to learn from differing perspectives, experiences, and knowledge. This relationship also allows professors to better direct their students to companies where they would be able to continue growing.

These interrelated efforts help retain students’ interest in transportation, facilitate the retention and advancement of transportation professionals through professional development programs, and provide opportunities for faculty to remain connected to the transportation practice.

John Mason, Associate Dean of Engineering, Pennsylvania State University

Perhaps the ultimate opportunity for future professionals to gain interest in the transportation profession is through internships. Internship programs provide students with the opportunity to experience the “real” world. They are able to work on a variety of projects, be exposed to new concepts, and see first-hand how projects and companies are managed. Interns also develop contacts and mentors to help answer their questions and support their future endeavors. Internships may ultimately provide the sponsoring company with a future employee who has a basic understanding of the profession and familiarity with the company.

I went from being "interested" in transportation to being slightly obsessed. I know this now as I take a million pictures of LRT stations and amenities. I wouldn't say my interests changed—they were enriched. After my internship experience, this broad interest in transportation can now evolve to a more refined one.

Mackenzie Nicholson, former KAI intern


It is important to keep professionals who have decided to devote their careers to creating safe, efficient, and fair transportation systems motivated and interested in fulfilling their dreams. Continually exposing transportation professionals to new problems or new solutions to existing problems through project work and training opportunities fuels their passions. Passionate professionals are professionals who will have a positive influence on the field. After returning to Australia following my exchange to KAI’s Portland office, I have become a qualified road safety auditor. This is a passion that developed through the influence of Beth Wemple (of KAI). I have also become the Secretary of ITE Australian and New Zealand Section.

Emma Donnelly, formerly on exchange from Andrew O’Brien & Associates in Australia

The transportation field is extremely broad covering a wide array of projects and responsibilities. It is important for transportation professionals to be exposed to this vast array of projects and to have a solid foundation of knowledge to develop their professional career. Being exposed to the broad spectrum of work keeps employees excited about learning new principles and will prevent them from geting bored with monotonous work.

Working in a consulting firm dedicated to transportation engineering and planning provided the opportunity for me to experience the full range of technical experiences in the field. This was an invaluable start to a career in the profession. The contrast between Portland and Melbourne also taught me a great deal about Melbourne that I had never noticed previously.

Mark O’Brien, formerly on exchange at KAI from Andrew O’Brien & Associates in Australia

Learning occurs through formal training programs, as well as through less formal “on-the-fly” training. Training can be offered internally on topics ranging from technical fundamentals to project management essentials. Internal training benefits individuals who are exposed to new concepts. In addition, the teacher has an opportunity to enhance their communication skills and confidence with the subject matter. Organizations should aim to provide a wide array of learning opportunities and for all individuals seeking to become well-rounded professionals.

Behind every good internal training session is a substantial investment of time and resources to develop the material and presentation. This process is a tremendous learning opportunity. Also, internal training can make a great practice ground! There is no greater audience of critics than your co-workers.

Chris Brehmer, KAI Portland

Beyond learning in the workplace, employees should be encouraged to seek out external networking and training opportunities. Conferences and professional organizations are some of the best ways for professionals to stay on the cutting edge of the field. Many professionals attend the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Conference, and participate with organizations such as the Institute of Transportation Engineers, Women’s Transportation Seminar, and American Society of Civil Engineers. These organizations create opportunities to see what others in the field are doing, to create lifetime relationships where people share common interests and goals, and give participants an opportunity to gain confidence and admiration within the field.

My participation in professional societies has helped me develop relationships with people all over the world. It has helped me become a better public speaker, a better leader of meetings, and a more well-rounded technical resource. My participation has also helped develop new opportunities for other staff to participate.

Lee Rodegerdts, KAI Portland

Staff exchanges between various offices and partner companies are an innovative way to foster professional growth. Exchanges allow employees to learn different practices, procedures, and ways of thinking while also building relationships between the individuals and companies.

Seeing and experiencing how other people do it provides you with insights and confidence to approach engineering challenges.

Christoff Krogscheepers, of ITS Traffic, formerly on exchange at KAI from South Africa

During my time in South Africa, I learned to think about safety and security in a whole different way. I recall witnessing a train pulling out of the station while there were school children running along side the moving train to board!

Peter Koonce, formerly on exchange at ITS Traffic from KAI Portland

While the future of the transportation profession appears to be heading in a direction that will lead to a shortfall in the number of practicing professionals, there are abundant opportunities to generate new interest, as well as to retain the professionals currently working in the field.

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