HNTB's Hakim On Diversity, Workforce Development

Photo: HNTB

Ronnie Hakim, transit/rail market sector leader, SVP, for HNTB discussed how the firm is improving diversity and inclusion and the challenges of retaining talent.

How is your firm addressing diversity and inclusion? Have you put any plans in place to increase awareness of the industries you serve to help attract a more diverse hiring pool? 

In 2021, HNTB established an infrastructure and mobility equity leadership team that works to shape policy through collaboration with federal, state and local agency leaders as well as community leaders and our clients, so equity considerations are taken into account as infrastructure is planned, designed and constructed. This group also is working to give our employees the tools, understanding and confidence so they feel empowered to play a role in advancing equitable outcomes as a part of their work. We feel strongly in our firm that everyone has a role to play when it comes to DEI.

Working towards and ultimately achieving a more diverse workforce is an important part of our culture at HNTB. And for us, that means diversity in many forms, whether it be race, gender, culture, or life and work experience. Each of these perspectives can bring important and needed insight to our work across the country.

One way we do this is through where we choose to recruit and seek a broad pool of candidates, such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities and local schools in the communities where we work. The idea being that this intentionality will help build a broader workforce that better mirrors the community in which it is serving.

What are some introductory ways you feel that transit and their supplier partners can truly impact the idea of diversity and inclusion in a genuine way?  

Some areas of potential impact include how projects, programs and services are being prioritized. This includes proactively engaging with a wide area of a local community, including seeking out those who don’t traditionally engage so they are given the opportunity to offer thoughts on proposed outcomes.

An additional area of impact includes the diversification of those who are providing services, including minority and small businesses so that the workforce can accurately reflect the community its serving and allowing for a wider range of considerations to be taken into account.

What is your company’s biggest challenge and what are you doing to overcome them?

Our industry is experiencing a similar to challenge that others are dealing with and that is the recruiting and retaining of talent. People are our most important assets and are critical to our overall success.

What steps have you taken to increase workforce development? 

With respect to our HNTB workforce we have a robust learning and development group that provides classes – in person and online – on a myriad of topics ranging from project management to unconscious bias training. In terms of being a good industry partner, one way we directly address workforce development in the industry is through our Partners Program. This program was created to offer coaching and partnering opportunities to qualifying businesses in order to promote business development and provide opportunities to enhance and expand client services and project deliverables. This is a year-long program that brings together the leadership of a smaller firm with HNTB leadership to complete a business assessment and establish a plan that will assist the participating firm in meeting its short and long-term goals, including securing contracting opportunities on large-scale projects with major transportation agencies. 

How is your agency working with groups representing more diversity and inclusion, such as COMTO, LIT, and WTS?

We share in these organizations’  mission of ensuring opportunities for all and expanding the diversity of voices that are heard in the planning, development and delivery of infrastructure. HNTB is a proud partner with the Conference for Minority Transportation Officials which helps advance the development and growth of underutilized businesses as well as attracting a diversified workforce and advancing their careers. As an industry partner for COMTO, we actively participate in their CITY intern program in addition to having HNTB professionals serve in leadership roles on COMTO’s national board. Many other of our employees serve in leadership roles in local COMTO chapters.

Similarly for WTS, HNTB has more than 300 employees who are members of the organization with several employees being current or past chapter and national level leaders.