Employed in Parking? Here’s Where You Might Be in 5 Years
Picture this: It’s the roaring 20’s and you’ve driven your car into downtown to do some shopping. You get there and want to park – but there are no available spaces! People who work in the area had taken all the stalls in front of the shops and left for the day. Now what? Well, you can’t leave your car so apparently you won’t be able to do any shopping. Business is going south fast for all the nearby merchants, and they are demanding that the city do something to force motorists to move their vehicles. Enter Carl Magee and his idea to force people to pay to leave their cars – and the invention of the parking meter! The first one was installed July 16, 1935 in Oklahoma City, and charged people 5 cents per hour to leave their cars in prime real estate spaces[i]. Of course people have needed to park their cars ever since they got them. But this, arguably, is where the parking profession got its roots.
At first, parking professionals were mainly city workers who focused on implementing and controlling parking meters – which included building, installing, maintaining, coin collection, and the like. As parking lots went up, the need to put as many cars in as little space as possible arose, and along came jobs related to the design and construction of parking garages[ii]. Soon there came parking lots complete with lot attendants and managers.
Along with the new parking technologies and structures came enforcement, and in 1960, the first crew of ‘meter maids’ was launched[iii]. Side note: As a member of the parking public, you probably hated these people, unless you were in Australia, where they wore gold bikinis and plugged the meter for you so you didn’t get a ticket[iv]. Good deal. Another service we’ve grown accustomed to is valet parking, which is flourishing across North America (although less so in the UK I’ve heard).
As cars became household staples, cities and private businesses alike recognized the profit potential in the parking industry. People became accustomed and even expected to pay to leave their cars. Competition for the parked vehicles increased, and marketers went to work designing signage and thinking up ways to drive more business (just in case you didn’t catch that awesome pun, I’m pointing it out) to their lots. Construction projects grew in size and requests for proposals and quotes started going out.
With all this competition, there needed to be some common ground. And thus, the birth of the parking association, with a variety of groups developing to meet the needs of the new parking professional including:
National Parking Association in 1951[v]
International Parking Institute in 1962[vi]
Canadian Parking Association in 1983[vii]
And that brings us to the current parking employment landscape. And each of these organizations offers a meeting place for all sorts of parking professionals, like researchers, hardware providers, city planners, magazine publishers, urban developers, and customer service providers (and maybe even a job or two in HR and marketing…). They also host annual conferences – adding more job opportunities for sales reps (both hardware and software), thought leadership, event planners, and many more. Businesses in the parking industry have all sorts of professional roles, including developers to build apps, social media specialists to build online reputations, IT professionals to maintain sensors networks, geographic information specialists to incorporate new location technologies, editors to produce, gather and curate magazines and websites, and sponsorship and community outreach teams to build positive relationships in their communities.
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The industry has come a long way and opened up a ton of new roles. In particular, women have become much more prevalent in leadership and managerial roles (as is the case in the majority of professions). In 2011, the Women in Parking association was founded to promote further growth of women in the industry. Over the past six years, the organization has provided networking, educational, and mentoring opportunities for its members.
What Changes are on the Horizon?
So do we need change in the parking industry? Well, like it or not, technology is having a major impact on how (and if!) people park their vehicles. And if we want to stay relevant, we need to stay current. Hiring the right people at the right time is a critical step in this process. Going forward, here are some suggestions for potential role additions:
Vehicle integration specialists: someone who knows the sensors, Bluetooth, and other capabilities of vehicles inside and out, and can work to integrate your products and services into vehicles so that parking becomes a seamless experience for drivers
Advanced IT practitioners: the Internet of Things (and in particular the Internet of Vehicles) is expanding into every aspect of our lives, and connections, software, and hardware are bound to need maintenance and repairs. Additionally, artificial intelligence and machine learning will eventually make their way to the mainstream of driving and parking (autonomous vehicles are popping up everywhere, and they’re just the beginning) – and these technologies will need to be integrated into successful parking-related operations.
Security professionals: not just for guarding parking lots anymore! Cyber security is top of mind in many ways, and certainly applies to vehicles[viii]. We’re envisioning cyber security specialists, who can help minimize the risk of cars being hacked, of parking apps and accounts being breached, and ensure online payment methods are secure (we’re looking at you, bitcoin).
Marketing generalists: companies have so many opportunities to promote products that whomever they hire for this task needs to have a broad understanding of every tactic available, plus at least a surface level understanding of how to put each one to use. Can you imagine hiring a media buyer who couldn’t write a blog post? Or a social media expert who couldn’t update your website? Not when you could hire one person to do it all.
Now that we’ve seen where employment is headed, it’s important to stay relevant. The best way to do that is to constantly upgrade your skills through ongoing courses, certifications, seminars, or other training you can find. The days of needing a 4 year University of College degree are fading, and with fewer barriers to entering the parking field (or any industry, really), it’s most important to show employers that you have the tools to do the task at hand.
An important note to make here is that while parking-specific certifications, such as the CPP or CAPP, are valuable, these programs won’t cover all the skills and knowledge base you’re going to need. Things like writing, public speaking, and effective communication skills can be applied to any role – and are equally valuable within parking.
Here’s one last point: there are also some vanishing jobs. In case you haven’t noticed, the world has gone and tried to automate itself. Many executives no longer require a dedicated assistant, data entry is no longer a manual beast, customer service can be boiled down to a few algorithms, and drivers may soon just go and hang up their keys.
If you’re mid-way through or just starting out in your career, and you’re in one of these specializations or one that can be easily automated, you would be doing yourself a disservice not to expand your skill set. Think about the context of what you’re doing and see how it can be applied to another role. Perhaps take a seminar or complete professional certification sponsored by your employer. Take on more responsibilities within your existing role to gain experience. Today, the key is to always be learning. If you aren’t learning something, you are wasting your time and hurting your future self’s ability to be competitive. Don’t get left behind in a time and in an industry that is undergoing a massive overhaul of how we do business.
Parking isn’t so different from other industries. The Internet of Things is changing the way we live, starting with large cities where parking is an important piece of the infrastructure. It seems logical that any business that doesn’t evolve its operations to keep up with demand will find themselves with no demand at all. If you think of yourself as your own business, selling your skill set to employers, you can see how a changing set of needs has a direct and profound impact on your employability. And now for those of you feeling inspired to see what parking jobs or parking talent is on the horizon – give Kathleen a shout