In 2007, I was offered a job as a Parking Attendant working on the streets of my hometown (now City) of Southend-on-Sea. I was excited to start my “six-month stop gap job” before pursuing my dream of joining the RAF or the Police. It’s important to note that I didn’t drive at the time and my perception was that of a fresh-faced teenager oblivious to the world of parking enforcement. I remember rushing home to tell my mum I got the job, and her initial reaction was “You’re going to be a traffic warden? Right, that’s it, I’m disowning you,” she said jokingly (at least I hoped so). It was then I realised that it wasn’t a popular career choice.
Despite all that, my time as a Civil Enforcement Officer (CEO) set the foundations for my career. Seeing the importance of parking management gave my role meaning. My desire to make a difference to my local community and the people I met daily contributed to my job satisfaction and drove me to look past the great British weather and the occasional heckle.
Fast forward 15 years and the intended stop gap role has become a diverse, rewarding, and exciting career.
My journey from Civil Enforcement Officer to President of the BPA is one I am extremely proud of, but my career path was like a game of snakes and ladders. I didn’t follow the typical linear path, from frontline to contract manager. Instead, my career saw me leap frogging between the on-street and off-street parking sectors. This allowed me to pick up transferable skills that served to strengthen my perspective and see challenges in a different light, but it has also highlighted the need for varied lines of linear progression within our sector.
Attracting Talent to Parking
I didn’t leave college aspiring to be a parking attendant or Civil Enforcement Officer and I certainly didn’t think that a parking career could lead me through so many varied routes of career progression. Like so many others, I just fell into a career in parking. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anyone who left school intentionally seeking to start a career in this sector.
The British Parking Association’s Women in Parking community recently conducted a poll via LinkedIn to understand how members found themselves working in the parking industry, and it turns out a whopping 93% also say they fell into the sector.
This posed the question, why is the percentage so high?
During last year's British Parking Association annual conference, I was part of an expert panel to explore just that.
I was joined on the panel by Kathleen Federici, Director of Professional Development for the International Parking and Mobility Institute (IPMI), John McArdle, Ex-BPA President and parking consultant, and Emma Moses, Training Manager at Conduent Parking Solutions. We delved into how we can challenge the perception of the sector and attract talented individuals.
One of the main points highlighted was the misconception that parking occupations are short term jobs for an unskilled labour market and how these misconceptions are fed by the general lack of clear career pathways guiding frontline workers to a variety of career opportunities.
There is a real need for continuous professional development that identifies the various career paths available within the sector.
Tapping into the tacit knowledge of the frontline
Given that the average parking sector employee remains in the industry for over ten years (see table below), the development of Civil Enforcement Officers is something that local authorities and parking operators should be taking advantage of. Development strategies that tap into the individual strengths of the CEO workforce can help attract talented and ambitious individuals to our sector, that go on to make valuable contributions to the industry.
CEOs can bring a wealth of transferable skills and insights into roles such as parking technicians, parking appeals administrators, technology developers and marketing and communications positions. By offering linear pathways of progression into various roles and sectors, individuals who may not typically consider work as a CEO, such as students, may find the job much more appealing.
Providing varied learning and development programmes within the Parking industry, can allow employers to not only take advantage of the wealth of potential within the industry’s frontline workforce but also help employers address future skills gaps and attract more people into parking roles, creating a win-win situation for both employers and employees.
Part of my goals as president of the BPA is not only to raise awareness of opportunities available and draw talented individuals to our sector, but also to shine a spotlight on the untapped talent sitting within our frontline teams.