As development expands in San Antonio, Austin and the areas in between, the I-35 corridor will require significant public investments to meet the demands and withstand the impact of a growing population.
At present, I-35 is already struggling to handle the wear and tear that comes with the passing of over 200,000 vehicles per day. With Engineering News-Record forecasts predicting that daily vehicle volume will increase by more than 100,000 within the next 20 years, efforts to improve transportation and transit options – along with initiatives for workforce development, education and housing – will be needed to enable the region to remain sustainable for new and current residents.
Decades of expected growth projected by demographers will drive new development along the corridor – and will require the engineering industry to develop long-lasting solutions to accommodate the expansion. Those solutions, in turn, will also require the engineering industry to cultivate the next generation of engineers and create a talent pipeline that will address our region’s engineering challenges.
Now is the time for engineers to invest in the next generation to ensure the industry is prepared to provide critical services for our growing region. As we look to the future, below are a few of the key initiatives needed to support the growth of the engineering industry.
Investment in STEM education
The challenges presented by our region’s rapid growth will require a large, steady and incredibly capable workforce with an eye for innovation. By investing in STEM education opportunities and promoting its importance to the younger generation now, the engineering industry will have a better chance of closing the skills gap in the future, which will aid in attracting and retaining the talent the industry needs.
Commitment to diversification
As the I-35 corridor continues to develop, the engineering industry at large will need to expand in a way that reflects the region’s changing demographics and growing diversity. Despite efforts to close the gender gap, women and girls remain underrepresented in STEM fields and in college STEM programs.
While women make up half of the college-educated labor pool in the United States, they only account for 29 percent of the STEM workforce. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics also confirms that African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans are underrepresented in the engineering industry, where they represent only 22 percent of the workforce. Many organizations within our region acknowledge this, and are pushing for change. A continued dedication to creating a more diverse STEM workforce for our future, along with the implementation of programs and initiatives to make this happen, will be needed to attract talent that aligns with our ever-changing demographics.
Opportunities for mentorship
There is a growing need for industry mentorship opportunities, both in the community and within organizations. Mentorship has played a critical role in my growth and development as an engineer with Raba Kistner.
My long-standing mentor within our company was recently promoted to a new role, and I was in turn promoted to take over his previous position in our Austin market. It was his personal investment in my career and pursuit of my success that have, in many ways, brought me to where I am today. As a Latina woman in engineering, it has been quite impactful for me to witness the role a diversified leadership team can play in the empowerment of an organization’s employees.
The ACE mentorship program, which has local chapters in our region and focuses on developing the next generation of students for careers in architecture, construction and engineering, is one of many organizations we believe are making a positive change for the future of STEM. These local opportunities allow industry leaders to help develop professionals of the future, often with students from urban districts who may not otherwise have access to learning from leaders in the STEM field.
As our region continues to grow and develop, investing in the next generation of engineering leaders will help to ensure the challenges our growing region faces are met with a well-prepared, engaged and diverse workforce.
For more information about Raba Kistner, visit www.rkci.com or call 512-339-1745.
Yvonne Garcia Thomas, P.E. is the vice president for Austin with Raba Kistner, a premier engineering consulting and program management firm.