Image of Jo Field's blog published in Transport Times

Our Managing Director, Jo Field, is the guest author in today's Transport Times blog. The article is reproduced here. Read more to find out why better public engagement on transport schemes creates cheerleaders and improves workforce diversity.

Like me, I'm sure many of you are ambassadors for the fantastic careers and opportunities the transport sector has to offer. We all know that transport plays an essential role in our everyday lives. From our daily commute, or to visit family, friends and places of interest. Whether it be by bus, train, bicycle, on foot or by car. Transport is the glue that builds and connects our cities, people and places. But how can we widen awareness of the industry and the range of exciting careers it has on offer?

Gender balance is a massive issue faced by the transport sector, with women making up less than one-quarter of the workforce. If we can't attract a more diverse workforce, we're missing a huge amount of talent. This is something that definitely needs addressing.

The answer lies with our customers and stakeholders, especially young people and local communities.

Stakeholders as cheerleaders

It's important to build relationships with the groups and communities who have an interest in your project. Aim to engage a wide-range of stakeholders in the planning and design of transport from the earliest possible stage. This means better policy decisions will be made because the people directly affected by the outcome of transport decisions are often the experts on what will and won't work in their local community.

While it can be tempting to limit the opportunities to consult and engage on a project moving at pace, it's important to remember that transport is about people. We are planning, designing and delivering transport schemes for people, so customer engagement is crucial.

Importantly, stakeholders are more likely to champion a project they've been involved in shaping.

Why do transport projects need cheerleaders? Well, it's essential when political decision-making plays a key part in so many of our schemes and whether they go ahead.

Engaging and inspiring the next generation
Improving stakeholder and community engagement on transport schemes means we will reach a wider audience and create greater awareness of the industry. An added 'benefit' of improved public engagement is a better public awareness of the important work the sector does. This highlights transport careers to a wider audience and expands and diversifies the talent pool, attracting and inspiring future generations.

An important example of a stakeholder group we should all be engaging with is young people and the organisations that represent them. Young people are the future transport workforce and will be the main users of the major schemes being built today, so engaging them in decision-making is vital.

By improving engagement with young people, and local communities in general, we will create wider awareness of the industry and encourage more people (including more women!) to consider transport careers.

How do we improve stakeholder engagement?
Here are my top five tips for improving stakeholder engagement and building advocacy for transport projects:

Know your stakeholders: To be able to engage with your stakeholders, you need to know exactly who they are. Carrying out a thorough mapping exercise will help you better understand who your stakeholders are and how your programme will affect them. Consider their level of interest in your project and their degree of influence.

Have the conversation: This is one of the most important parts of stakeholder engagement. If you don't communicate with your stakeholders, you risk losing their respect and missing vital background information for your project. All interested parties have the right to be heard and must be. Engagement should go beyond what the law requires. Listening to stakeholder groups means you'll be better equipped to deliver a scheme that suits everyone, and avoids costly mistakes later on. It also means you will promote your project, and the transport industry in general, in the best way possible.

Engage early and often: Stakeholders need to be engaged at every stage in your project, and engagement has to be two-way and meaningful. Stakeholders should be confident you will listen to their views and needs, and have a real opportunity to influence the scheme. Turning a good project into a great one means sharing initial ideas with trusted stakeholders and gaining their expertise early on. Be bold and engage early!

Aim to build advocacy among your stakeholders: Advocacy is one of the key benefits of working in this way. Carrying out top-quality, meaningful engagement with a wide-range of groups will help win support for your scheme. This will drive the project forward and protect its reputation. Not only that, it will create a genuine interest in the industry and help deliver schemes that benefit everyone.

However, building advocacy is a long-term process and it doesn't happen overnight. Fundamentally, it relies on long-term relationship building, listening and working together to deliver results that work for everyone.

Be an advocate for your stakeholders: Advocacy is a two-way and mutual process. If you want your stakeholders to become advocates for your project you should focus on championing their needs too. Make sure their views are heard at the right time, by the right people in the project team, to enable customers and stakeholders to have genuine influence.

By following these tips and better engaging with our stakeholders, customers and local communities, we can better promote the transport industry, the pioneering projects we deliver, and the exciting careers on offer. This means we're all playing a part in addressing gender imbalance and inspiring the workforce of the future.