We’ve had the chance to speak with dozens of successful professionals from the transportation industry about their advice to the next generation workforce. We asked questions like, "What would you say to students who are thinking about careers in transportation?" and "What were some of the things that helped you along your career path?"
Deciding it might be helpful to condense some of that great wisdom into a list, we present you with the following “10 Keys to Succeed" in hopes that they will serve as a small source of knowledge and inspiration as you create your own path to success.
While reading the list, keep in mind it’s not ordered from least to greatest or vice-versa. It’s up to you to decide what you find particularly useful or meaningful. And really, that’s what it’s all about in the first place: if there’s one real key point we hope you take away from it all, it’s really only this: that you’re in charge of your own destiny, and you alone hold the keys to your success.
“10 Keys to Succeed”
1) Plan for college. According to the latest research, higher education is a major ticket to career opportunity. And it may be more affordable than you think. Check out online resources like this US News page for information on funding your own university, community college or trade school education without breaking the bank. You might also be surprised at the variety of scholarships available specifically for students pursuing transportation-related industries. You can learn about some of them by visiting our Scholarships Page; or, check out a previous issue of Fast Forward to learn about a number of extracurricular programs that can help students who are considering the transportation industry pursue potential college scholarship opportunities.
2) Take a proactive approach. If you’ve yet to hone in on a college major or specialization, there’s no need to panic. But do avoid the wait-and-see mentality, otherwise known as “I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.” Instead, try taking small steps in a forward direction. Consider spending 10-15 minutes of internet time each day learning about an industry or career. Make a list of your skills and the things that interest you, and spend time considering where they could be put to good use. Pay attention to the news to learn about world events and future trends that might impact the job market in five, 10, or even 20 years. The more you know and the more you do, the greater the chances you’ll find ways to succeed.
3) Think outside the box. To help narrow both your college and career search, try thinking beyond specific careers and in terms of industries. For example, say you want to be an accountant for a transportation agency: consider planning a step further by picturing where you could combine that knowledge with (a) your other interests, and (b) an industry that will thrive and offer competitive job opportunities. Maybe “accountant” becomes “accountant for a company that champions clean energy.” When you combine your interests with a marketable industry, you could end up with the best of both worlds. Remember to research and learn about dynamic, growing industries like transportation to find out where the greatest opportunities will be found in the future.
4) Refocus on your grades in middle and high school. If you’re not giving school your best effort, it may be time to consider a fresh start. Skills and study habits tend to follow us into college and the workforce. Grades are most often an indicator of level of effort (especially when it comes to our least favorite subjects), not intelligence—and future employers will expect effort and performance even on our least favorite job assignments. Take stock of areas in which you’re excelling and areas where you could make an improvement. It’s never too late to try harder, and your new habits will follow you to a fresh start in college.
5) Don’t downplay your college minor. A lot of people focus a lot of energy on picking a college major, but spend little time thinking about their minor. But your minor can act as a small rocket booster to propel you to the next level in your career. For example, an engineering degree can get you in the door at a transportation agency—but an engineering degree with a minor in public policy and administration could propel you to the level of decision-maker. The point: use your minor to augment your major and open the doors to a more diverse array of career options--not just as a filler.
6) Consider AP courses. Many high schools offer advanced placement (AP) courses that are equivalent to credit in college courses, such as math. If you’re doing well managing your current course load, you might consider talking to a teacher or guidance counselor about trying your hand in AP classes. If you think you can handle it, they’re a great way to push yourself, to test your abilities and even bypass a few courses you might otherwise have to take (and pay for) at the university level.
7) Revamp your extracurriculars. Consider this: many organizations offer extracurricular activities, at little to no cost to students, that provide hands-on career exposure, that can get you connected with professional networks and organizations in your industry of choice, and that can help you land college scholarships. Check out this previous issue of Fast Forward, where we featured a number of different programs, like the FIRST Robotics Competition, the ASCE Civil Engineering Club, and Construction Career Days, that exist all over the country and can help students learn more about their career options as they have fun meeting people with similar interests and participating in awesome events and activities.
8) Find a mentor. This could be a parent, a teacher, a relative, a professional from the community, or all of the above. The idea is to find a positive person or group of people with whom you can discuss your interests and goals. You even can even find professional mentoring organizations for students, like Transportation YOU or ACE Engineering, that have chapters all over the country and connect young people interested in transportation with professionals from the industry. Other organizations exist for potential engineers, public works professionals, construction professionals list goes on. Or, reach out to industry professionals in your area, just to ask questions about what they do. You might be surprised at the connections you can make and the knowledge you can gain just by sending an email or making a quick phone call.
9) Get connected. Interested in a specific industry? Consider following or becoming a member of a professional association. For example, if it’s transportation or engineering you’re interested in, check out organizations like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Professionals (AASHTO), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ACSE), or the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE). These organizations are a great way to learn more about specific careers, keep up-to-date on the latest trends in the industry, network with industry professionals, and learn about professional or student events and activities near you. Many such organizations offer educational and workforce development programs intended to help students get on the right track to industry careers.
10) Have fun. Lastly, remember that the point of it all is to end up in a career that you enjoy and find rewarding, so the way there should be fun and rewarding, too! Choosing a career can seem difficult or even stressful at times if you think of it as a "stressful life decision." Instead, think of it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world around you, and to create a future for yourself where you'll love getting up and going to work in the morning.