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Meeting the Moment

As federal infrastructure investments surge, COMTO is helping the transportation industry engage a more diverse workforce to build a better future.

By April Rai | President and CEO of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials

Two years ago, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was signed into law, authorizing $1.2 trillion for transportation and infrastructure spending.

This historic investment represents such a huge opportunity for the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials as a transportation advocacy organization. We are a voice of equity for all communities.

Our organization is built on principles of knowledge sharing and promoting partnerships for success. COMTO has been in existence for more than 50 years and our entire purpose is to initiate opportunities and uplift the benefits of our members by actively engaging diverse, top talent. Diversity, in all of its forms, drives innovation.

Across the nation, talent grows and thrives in innovative trade schools, historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and many other organizations that serve and promote advancement in economically disadvantaged communities. We encourage COMTO members, especially our agency and private sector members, to engage such institutions so they can meet their demand for talent.

COMTO offers various opportunities and mechanisms to help connect organizations with talent. Some take the form of direct outreach to agencies and organizations that are looking for interns or have various employment opportunities. At the same time, we reach out to existing networks of colleges, institutions and trade schools to create connections between market demand and eager talent.

Cultivating Young Talent

COMTO is perhaps best known for managing successful employment pipeline programs. Among them is our Careers in Transportation for Youth (CITY) internship program, which is celebrating its 20th year in 2024. CITY provides paid internship opportunities for minority students, connecting them to hands-on professional and practical experience in the transportation industry in regions across the country. We’re very proud that more than 50% of interns who have completed this 10-week program have chosen to remain in the transportation industry.

One reason for the program’s success is that COMTO supplements the on-the-job experience with virtual training in soft skills that contribute to success in business. This virtual training covers topics such as how to dress for success, how to communicate effectively and even how to overcome imposter syndrome, which affects many people coming from disadvantaged communities when they work in a professional environment for the first time.

For COMTO members in the small businesses category, our organization covers the cost of the 10-week internship, so the intern gets an opportunity to work with an entrepreneur who likely looks like them, and the business can extend the opportunity without being hindered by expense considerations.

Connectors and Conveners

Many organizations need more people on their teams and are deeply interested in building a more diverse workforce. What COMTO does, and has been doing for decades, is show them what success looks like – how organizations like theirs have been able to seize opportunities to increase engagement and diversity in their recruiting and retention pool. We curate connections between like-minded organizations so they can learn from one another.

One phenomenal success story of a similar model is that of the Michigan DOT’s Transportation Diversity Recruitment Program (TDRP). Through this program, MDOT works directly with historically black colleges and universities to arrange internship opportunities in their organization. MDOT has been able to expand the program exponentially, connecting more and more young people to careers that can be sustained over the long term.

One of COMTO’s strengths is to be a convener and thought leader in the area of transportation equity. This is one reason why the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) chose our organization to support their equity-related efforts. We are proud be leading the equity components of their Center for Environmental Excellence, which helps state DOTs learn from one another about engaging the environment, including the cultural environment and communities we all serve.

Why a Transportation Career?

The transportation industry needs top talent now more than ever before. We have to ensure that our industry is more attractive to the next generation, and we can do this in a number of ways.

The first is to showcase specifically how we and our colleagues in transportation make our communities better through our work. The generation that is entering the workforce is extremely interested in serving the common good – above all other factors. Certainly, they want to have a career that offers financial stability and good benefits, but research indicates that this rising generation cares a lot more about the community, the environment, sustainability and resiliency. This means that our industry must find creative ways to communicate the exponential impact of transportation on the quality of life in communities we serve across the nation.

The second way to attract new talent to our industry is to let young people know there is a place for them in transportation. There is a perception that transportation careers are solely focused on engineering and construction. Those activities are core to our industry, but we have so much more to offer. We need artists, marketing professionals, social media experts, computer whizzes, landscape designers, mathematicians and almost every other type of person. We need to make it perfectly clear to young people that regardless of their interest or their skill set, we will find a place for them in this industry, because we really need it all.

The Task Ahead

Through the diligent work of organizations like COMTO and thousands of transportation professionals around the country, we have made great strides in developing a more diverse industry workforce. We have moved in the right direction and should be proud of our efforts to attract talent to our industry at an early age. We must work together to retain that talent throughout their career cycle, and then to help them move into leadership roles with intention. This means ensuring that we serve as mentors, sponsors and allies to individuals so they can cross the threshold from practitioners into leaders.

As organizations seek to develop a more vibrant and diverse workforce, I extend an offer of assistance and practical guidance from COMTO and its members in 39 chapters across the United States. We are kindred spirits in meeting the moment that America’s historic transportation investments have created.


April Rai is President and CEO of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials, a national advocacy organization with more than 3,000 organizational and individual members. For more than 50 years, COMTO has worked to advance equitable opportunities and maximum participation for minority individuals, veterans, people with disabilities and minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises. In this role, she provides strategic leadership and guidance, and ensures that COMTO operates effectively to further its mission.

April has devoted her career to managing private, public sector and non-profit organizations, with a focus on strategic partnership development, coalition building, people and project management. Before joining COMTO, she served as Deputy Executive Director for the Women’s Transportation Seminar International (WTS). There she served as Chief of Staff, led project planning, and managed several board-level committees and strategic initiatives. Prior to joining WTS, April served as the CEO for the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS), engaging with transportation stakeholders on road safety programs, injury prevention education and workforce development initiatives.

Earlier in her career, April served as Manager and Affairs Analyst in the Office of the Dean at the University of Maryland, School of Nursing directing government affairs and communications.

April resides in the Washington, DC metro area with her husband.