Secretary Buttigieg wants HBCUs to know the Transportation Department is hiring

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The wheels are churning to quickly put in place an HBCU-focused job fair for immediate openings in the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

In Baltimore, Mayland, last week at Morgan State University, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg noted in an interview with theGrio, “I didn’t just come here to be a voice to the HBCUs from a research perspective. I also came here as a recruiter. There are hundreds of positions that we need to fill in my department alone, just in order to deliver on this bipartisan infrastructure law.”

Secretary of the Department of Transportation Pete Buttigieg (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in November 2021. The law provides funding to improve roads, bridges, highways, airports, public transportation and water infrastructure. It also invests in clean energy transportation and electric vehicle charging.

Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was at Morgan State viewing some federally funded transportation research projects created by students. He witnessed and rode some of the newest STEM innovations from automated wheelchairs and other moving apparatus meant for personal or public use.  

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Buttigieg said his focus was beyond the experiments and his discussion on ending racism in infrastructure. “We’ve been entrusted with hundreds of billions of dollars in funding to actually put that funding to work, to get it to where it needs to go to make sure that it’s spent wisely and effectively,” Buttigieg told theGrio.

“That’s going to take a lot of talent, and we’ve already got enormous talent in our department. But we need to hire more people to help us effectively use those dollars. So at USAjobs.gov right now, there are job postings, and we’re going to be actively recruiting on campuses like this one, letting people know these opportunities that are out there and just how much we need that talent in order to be able to deliver on this bill.”

According to a report from the Center for Transportation Studies at Morgan State, there is a minority underrepresentation in professional and managerial positions in the transportation industry.

Morgan State University is a public historically black research university in Baltimore. (Photo by Jonathan Newton /The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The report cites two successful programs that have worked to change that dynamic. The programs were designed to increase minority participation in the field of transportation. The first program is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s Airway Science Program, which according to the report, “has already established FAA-approved academic programs in seven HBCUs.”

The second program, Morgan State’s Career Development and Training Project (CDTP), “carries out a variety of activities including recruitment, counseling, providing financial aid, placing students in internship or co-op programs, and conducting workshops.”

The lack of diversity in the Department of Transportation could have been one of the factors that contributed to the segregation that was built into the nation’s roadways that were meant to keep certain communities out of affluent and white areas, as theGrio has previously reported about in-depth.

The study also points out, that minorities are disproportionately dependent on public transit. Therefore, Black and Brown communities are a “major contribution to the local financial support of transit systems as taxpayers.” 

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The study also noted an irony that minority businesses have “experienced to date only the most minimal participation in planning, development and implementation of transit systems and system improvements.”

The announced job opportunities at the Department of Transportation are not only in the nation’s capital but potentially available around the country.

In February, the DOT met with HBCU presidents at the CIAA in Baltimore on the issue of hiring at the department with a focus on HBCU students. Buttigieg said that hiring HBCU students has been a priority of President Biden since the beginning of the administration.

And to further push the HBCU recruiting and hiring effort, this week, Secretary Buttigieg turned to social media to advertise the open positions. The department wants to “recruit a new generation of public servants,” he said.

Buttigieg told theGrio that in addition to the new jobs being created to meet the needs brought by the infrastructure law, there are also hundreds of jobs yet to be filled after being left vacant by the Trump administration.

“A lot of people left federal service in recent years. And that’s true across the board. We got a lot of work to do to refill those ranks. But maybe with that comes an opportunity to bring a new generation of public servants into these roles,” said the Transportation Secretary. 

“They haven’t always been viewed as glamorous, but they have enormous responsibility, enormous power to do good. And I’ll tell you, the people that I work with within the Department of Transportation are just the most remarkable, committed public servants who are doing everything from shaping the future of commercial space travel to making sure that we have the right policies for electric vehicles and everything in between. 

He added, “There’s never been a more exciting time to work in transportation policy, and I’m really excited about the generation of people who may start their careers by choosing to be part of this moment in transportation.”

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In North Carolina, a state that boasts 11 HBCUs, its Department of Transportation is actively recruiting HBCU students through a host of programs, including internships and fellowships, as well as a Botswana African Initiative in efforts to “increase the pipeline and diversity of students interested in a transportation career.”

With a passion that many of the town hall participants felt, Secretary Buttigieg emphasized to theGrio that his department’s partnership with HBCUs is “very important” to him and the Biden-Harris administration. 

“We’ve done a lot working with the federally funded programs at research institutions like here at Morgan State. But the truth is we can do a lot more, and we are doing a lot more right now,” he said. “In many ways, we’re just getting warmed up and it’s an exciting time for this relationship.”

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