21 November 2018

Last week I attended the Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation's very first Young Professional's Conference in Leeds.

After grappling with Leeds' sub-zero weather conditions on the walk to the conference, (insert joke about being southern here) I was soon thawing from the energy that greeted me in the foyer. The patter and buzz generated by the cohort of younger transport professionals reassured me I was amongst friends and likeminded peers that would ensure the day was a success.

Success it was! From the moment I got there I was bumping into colleagues I've come to know along my journey with England's Economic Heartland and bouncing ideas around with new acquaintances over coffee.  Anyway, networking niceties over, it was time to get down to business  transport.

Throughout the course of the day talks were divided into hubs, essentially breakout areas, in which guest speakers would host a short seminar style presentation.

My morning began captivated by a talk on the strategic approach to private hire vehicles and taxis by Leeds Institute for Transport Studies. Soon after that I whizzed across to catch Tom Younger from Uber give a Steve Jobs style speech on the cool things they were working on in terms of ride sharing.  Time for two more seminars; HS2 on the supply chain opportunities and Balfour Beatty showcasing an engineering project in rural Africa, a reminder of the way transport can 'literally' build bridges to prosperity.

Lunchtime – a serving of chicken with a side order of CAV debate amongst colleagues. It feels like wherever I go with younger professionals the conversation inevitably turns to autonomous vehicles, their pros/cons and all things in between – food offers no deterrent.

Back to it then. My afternoon kicked off with a presentation on the finalists of CIHT's 'My Transport Vision' competition. This offered a refreshing perspective on what younger pros perceived as being the challenges lying ahead for the industry. This was soon followed by a presentation by Highways England on clever ways they're improving asset management and network resilience - who knew how smart traffic cones can be?

CIHT's CEO Sue Percy then wrapped up the day in a closing speech. During which she made that type of comment that just sticks with you, it went something like this: 'a diverse transport future requires a diverse workforce'.  Sue is obviously right, but those words are particularly profound given the way CIHT have managed to foster a culture of genuine inclusivity, be it on personal characteristics or academic background.

I just feel CIHT 'gets it' and what I mean by that is they, like me, see the world of transport moving into a new era. This era is filled with deep uncertainty, conflicting priorities and inter-dependable issues - a 'wicked problem' so to speak. Promoting and encouraging new skills and different perspectives will ensure we rise to the challenge.

The CIHT young professionals embody this way of thinking; it's an ecosystem of ideas that have been shaped by our different entries into the profession- often unconventional. But that's our strength, as millennials we have seen first-hand the pace of technological change and have had to embrace it and be dynamic. If my CIHT experience to date has taught me anything, it's that diversity is not just welcomed - it's key to our ability to adapt as a profession. 

Antony Swift is a Project Lead at England's Economic Heartland