Learn more about the sector that literally drives the economy and the country forward, from the different areas of transport and logistics and popular employers to how to get a job and key industry trends

Areas of transport and logistics

There's more to the transport sector than road, rail, air and water networks. It also incorporates logistics, supply chain, vehicle manufacturing, transport planning and traffic management. People and businesses rely heavily on these networks and services.

Passenger transport incorporates operations (driver, pilot and air crew), route planning, customer service and safety. This is then split into:

  • aviation
  • bus and coach
  • light rail, tram and metro services
  • rail
  • taxi and private hire
  • water transport.

Logistics/supply chain can be broken down into:

  • freight transportation
  • maritime and port operations
  • postal and courier activities
  • warehousing, storage and handling.

Large transport companies also recruit graduates to HR, finance, IT, sales, marketing, communications and procurement roles.

For examples of careers in the industry, see graduate jobs in transport and logistics.

Transport and logistics employers

The sector is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with large firms the most likely to take on graduates.

In rail, coach, bus and private hire, you may find work with:

Leading logistics and transportation companies include:

  • Gist
  • P&O Ferrymasters
  • Stobart Group
  • Wincanton.

Air transport employers include:

  • Airbus
  • British Airways
  • easyJet
  • Heathrow Airport
  • International Airlines Group (which includes Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia)
  • Manchester Airports Group (MAG)
  • Ryanair
  • Virgin Atlantic.

For water transport, consider:

  • Cunard
  • Fred Olsen Cruise Lines
  • P&O Ferries
  • Peel Ports Group (six UK and Ireland ports including Dublin, Glasgow, Liverpool and the Manchester Ship Canal)
  • Saga Cruises
  • Stena Line.

Postal and courier companies that take on graduates include:

  • DHL
  • DPD
  • FedEx (also owns TNT)
  • Hermes Group
  • Royal Mail Group
  • UK Mail
  • UPS
  • Yodel.

Government departments and agencies include:

  • Department for Transport (DfT)
  • Highways England.

Working in the sector

Graduates entering the sector can expect:

  • the work to be highly pressurised and demanding - you'll often have to work within tight timeframes to fix problems and if you work within public transport you'll come into contact with members of the public on a regular basis. Certain roles also come with a high level of responsibility. For example, as an air traffic controller, airline pilot or passenger transport manager you're responsible for passenger safety.
  • long working hours - employees often work outside normal hours, including early mornings, evenings and weekends. Time spent away from home is also a feature of some roles, for example, airline pilots, air cabin crew and merchant navy officer.
  • a range of salaries - in management roles starting salaries can be relatively low, but typically rise considerably at senior levels. On average, air cabin crew earn starting salaries between £12,000 and £14,000, transport planners between £20,000 and £25,000, while airline pilots working for large companies typically earn £28,000.
  • a lot of roles to be male dominated - however, the imbalance is slowly improving.

Entry requirements

These vary depending on the role. For graduate roles in passenger transport management, any degree subject is accepted, although some employers prefer it to be business or economics related. To work for a logistics company, you'll need to hold a logistics degree, while an accredited engineering degree is typically required for electrical or maintenance engineering jobs.

Some positions expect professional qualifications. For example, to become a pilot you'll need an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) - see how to become a pilot in the UK. To drive a lorry, bus or coach, you'll need a Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) - or to apply for a National Vocational Training (NVT) concession while you're driving.

For most transport careers a postgraduate qualification isn't required, although having one may give you an advantage in growth areas such as logistics, if you don't already have a related degree.

Further training through professional bodies may be an advantage for developing networks, continuing professional development (CPD) and keeping up to date with advances in the industry.

Whatever level you're at, The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) in the UK provides details of relevant transport and logistics courses to progress your career.

For information on entry requirements for different roles, see transport and logistics job profiles.

Essential skills

Graduate recruiters look for candidates with:

  • excellent communication and customer service skills
  • IT literacy
  • numeracy skills
  • flexibility, adaptability and the ability to be mobile
  • geographical knowledge
  • decision making and planning skills
  • project management
  • commercial awareness
  • the ability to negotiate
  • practical problem-solving ability.

For some roles you may also need a clean driving licence.

Getting a graduate job in transport and logistics

Larger organisations offer transport graduate schemes in disciplines such as general management, engineering, operations, transport planning and logistics, IT, finance and HR.

Find out more about road and railway careers and visit the websites of leading employers, including Network Rail, Transport for London (TfL) and engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald.

Large postal and courier delivery companies such as DHL, DPD and Royal Mail Group run formal graduate programmes.

There are also schemes for graduates with an understanding of logistics and supply chain management. Gist, Boots, Lidl and EDF Energy are among the employers offering graduate opportunities.

For those seeking careers in air travel, many leading private employers run airline graduate schemes - for example, Ryanair run schemes in head office, operations and IT.

To explore the graduate roles currently available, search transport industry jobs.

There are also a number of transport apprenticeships to consider if you're looking at alternatives to university.

As the majority of organisations are SMEs, many don't advertise formal transport internships or work placements - but approach them speculatively to enquire whether they have any opportunities.

Another way to get you foot in the door is to search work experience opportunities in the transport industry.

Just like elsewhere in the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the UK's transport and logistics sector.

It caused a pivot in operational needs with demands on the logistics sector rapidly increasing thanks to the pressure on pharmaceutical supply chains and the boom in e-commerce. The rise in online sales over the course of the pandemic led to increased job opportunities throughout the supply chain, from logistics managers to HGV drivers.

On the other hand, national lockdowns and increased safety precautions, such as being advised against using public transport unless necessary and being encouraged to work from home, has resulted in a fall in demand for public transport services. However, with England returning to Plan A measures (which includes removing the need to work from home) in January 2022, it is hoped that the use of public transport services will rise.

International travel bans and restrictions also took their toll on the aviation industry, although it's hoped that as restrictions lift the aviation sector will begin to recover.

COVID-19 aside, the Department for Transport is committed to investing in transport infrastructure, which incorporates the upgrading of Britain's road and rail network. Notable projects include the A14 road upgrade and HS2, the high-speed rail link, plus major work on the East and West Coast Main Lines.

These projects mean that talented graduates are needed to replace an ageing workforce and to solve modern, complex problems. Furthermore, digital transformation means that graduates with knowledge and skills in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), the internet of things (IoT) and blockchain will be highly sought after by employers within the transport and logistics sector.

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