The National Academies

TCRP F-33 [Anticipated]

Enriching Transit’s Workforce: Recruiting and Retaining Individuals with Disabilities

  Project Data
Funds: 150000
Staff Responsibility: Dianne S. Schwager
Comments: In development
Fiscal Year: 2024

This project has been tentatively selected and a project statement (request for proposals) is expected to be available on this website. The problem statement below will be the starting point for a panel of experts to develop the project statement.

The Transportation Research Board and the transportation industry have long recognized the need to attract, develop, and retain a diverse group of workers to fill the varied positions that enrich our industry. Especially now, as ridership rates increase and transit agencies struggle to fill open positions, innovative strategies are needed to ensure the recruitment and retention of a diverse transit workforce. This approach, recognizing the critical contributions made by individuals from diverse backgrounds, is also reflected in the federal government’s Justice40 initiative.

Often overlooked in efforts to recruit a diverse transit workforce is the pool of potential employees who have disabilities. In 2021, the Bureau of Labor statistics reported that only 19.1 percent of persons with a disability were employed, while 63.7% of persons without a disability were employed. Additionally, 29 percent of workers with a disability were employed part time, compared with 16 percent for those with no disability, reflecting the persistent challenge of underemployment of this population. Individuals with disabilities represent a viable recruitment pool for the transportation sector. However, a lack of knowledge about how to recruit and retain individuals with disabilities, along with administrative structures that can tend to “silo” disabled workers into units disconnected from workforce development opportunities, may be a challenge for transportation hiring managers. In fact, in a recent study conducted by the National Center for Mobility Management, an FTA-funded national technical assistance center, researchers found little emphasis by university transportation programs on strategies to educate future transportation planners about disability topics. In addition, university professionals were not knowledgeable about strategies used by their department or university to recruit students with disabilities into transportation preparation programs.

Ron Brooks, founder and CEO of Accessible Avenue and a 30-year transit industry veteran and lifelong member of the disability community, stated: “As the public transit industry begins to fully embrace a true commitment to authentic equity, it is critical that people with disabilities are part of that picture. As an industry, we already know that effectively serving a diverse community means leadership and personnel that are similarly diverse, so if we’re serving people with disabilities, we need people with disabilities to join us as leaders and employees. But we can’t even begin when we don’t know where we stand. It’s that old adage: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Truer words were never spoken.”

Now is the time to expand our transit workforce pool. There is an alignment between the supply of potentially qualified yet overlooked transportation personnel across employment levels and the demand for skilled professionals in the tightest labor market in 40 years. Through a multi-stepped research process, this work will capture information about recruitment and retention strategies, aggregate findings into replicable models, develop and package learning to communicate to the field, and serve as the foundation for future research to facilitate a robust transit workforce that is benefited by the inclusion of individuals with disabilities.

This research seeks to:

  1. Discover strategies and practices used across the transportation industry that focus on the recruitment and retention of individuals with disabilities.
  2. Engage industry leaders with disabilities in developing recruitment and retention models, along with appropriately aligned internal organizational structures, that facilitate the representation of individuals with disabilities across the transportation workforce.
  3. Identify and suggest replicable capacity-building tools that can be used by the industry to advance and enrich its workforce with employees with disabilities.
  4. Determine what types of additional data collection may help advance further research and action in the field.

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