Road and railway careers

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
January, 2019

Discover what it takes to keep the nation moving on the roads and by rail, and how you can play a part by working for a leading graduate employer

In addition to the government's pledge to deliver 30,000 road and rail apprenticeships by 2020, more than £70billion has been set aside for the improvement of Britain's transport infrastructure, as part of the biggest rail investment since the Victorian era, and the most extensive road improvements in decades.

The aim is not only to ensure better journeys for people across the country, but to create an enduring legacy of opportunity and skills for the next generation of transport workers. With this project well underway, now is a great time to consider plotting your career path in the transport industry.

Why work in transport?

There are many career options in transport and logistics, but there's particularly high demand for those with a degree in civil engineering.

Andrew Boagey, an experienced rail professional and member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE)'s Transport Expert Panel, explains that civil engineers are vital to the delivery and operation of the world's transport infrastructure networks - this includes highways, rail, airports, seaports, harbours, waterways and urban transport, such as light rail and cycle routes.

Public organisations in the UK such as Network Rail, Transport for London (TfL) and Highways England rely on civil engineers and their technical expertise to help manage, maintain and deliver the country's transport infrastructure.

Andrew adds that civil engineers working in private consulting and construction companies 'play an essential role in planning, designing and building transport networks that allow people to travel from A to B in the best and safest way possible'.

If you decide to become a civil engineer in transport, Andrew suggests that, while it can be extremely rewarding, the work requires expertise and experience while carrying significant responsibility.

'Achieving a professional qualification with a professional membership organisation, such as ICE - becoming chartered - ratifies a civil engineer's knowledge, skills and experience,' says Andrew.

'It's an internationally recognised standard, confirming to employers and clients that an engineer is technically and professionally competent and can make the right decisions.'

Explore ICE and gain an insight into civil engineering careers relating to transport.

Discover more about the role of a contracting civil engineer.

If you're looking to enter the industry, search graduate jobs in transport and logistics.

Highways England jobs

Employment opportunities exist in the maintenance and improvement of the country's motorways and major A roads, particularly with Highways England. Civil engineers are in demand for the planning, design and construction of numerous facilities. These operations are not restricted to vehicles, as pedestrian and cycle highways are also crucial aspects of transport infrastructure.

If this sounds like an area you'd be interested in, you can explore the various Highways England graduate and apprenticeship schemes, which are available annually. Those on one of the three-year graduate programmes can expect to experience different parts of the agency, with the possibility of promotion after the final year.

In terms of postgraduate study, the University of Nottingham's practical one-year full-time MSc Transportation Infrastructure Engineering can be studied in one of two pathways: Sustainable Highways or Sustainable Railways. The course blends academic study with the development of professional and practical engineering skills through project work, so graduates are fully prepared for working in the realm of transport infrastructure.

Transport management, planning and operations

As TfL points out, it takes at least 28,000 people to keep a major city such as London moving. One of the key aspects of ensuring this happens as a TfL graduate is through transport management and planning.

It's a transport planner's job to devise plans, policies and projects that improve the systems in place. However, these could be at the local, national or international level.

You could forge a TfL career in strategy and change management, with candidates expected to achieve a 2:1, ideally in accounting, economics, business or a STEM subject. The two-year scheme involves working on six placement rotations primarily focused on the London Underground.

Cardiff University's MSc Transport and Planning, which is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation (CIHT), is a good example of a course with a broad outlook. While a postgraduate qualification isn't essential for this profession, students will develop transport planning, policy, operation and management skills, so they can make an effective contribution to organisations in the UK or abroad.

Another important position is that of a passenger transport manager. You'll typically be involved with the planning, coordinating and managing of transport operations while dealing with areas such as budgeting and financing, the management of day-to-day operations, service planning, strategic development, and marketing and PR.

Railway jobs for graduates

For a highly structured career path in rail, there are plenty of jobs for graduates. The large rail operators have a number of work experience and apprenticeship places available each year.

Virgin Trains' three-year RedTrack programme enables students to work towards an undergraduate business management degree at Manchester Metropolitan University while developing their skills and gaining experience.

'The programme is a unique opportunity that allows us to really understand the logistics and processes of a range of departments within Virgin Trains, including operations, HR, frontline and Logistics,' explains a member of the rail operator's Red Track Crew. 'We gain a solid groundwork of experience, skills and understanding of real industry life.'

However, it's not without its challenges. 'Studying and working full time in a variety of locations - more than 100 miles away from home, in some cases - isn't easy and requires a hardworking, dedicated and focused work ethic,' says the crew member.

'One thing we've learned is that we should be ready for anything. The railway industry is challenging and complex but that's where it's exciting and really keeps you motivated.'

Virgin Trains careers aren't just about running trains. Effective railway operations require a range of expertise and for employees to work together. The commercial team is always in need of marketers and designers, while those with maths ability help to manage and forecast revenue and finances.

'Of course, there's also the operational side of the business, such as train control, train diagramming, and fleet management, but also working on board and at stations too,' adds the representative.

There are two routes to consider for those joining the Network Rail graduate scheme. The engineering stream covers specialisms in civil engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, and mechanical engineering. Business management encompasses the disciplines of finance, general management, health, quality, project management, safety and environment, HR, IT and business services, and property and supply chain management.

As well as the range of Network Rail jobs on offer, their year in industry opportunities are another way for undergraduates to get that crucial experience in general management, business analysis and performance, communications, project management, HR, quantity surveying, engineering, environment and sustainable development, finance or IT and business services.

You may also wish to consider Thameslink Railway careers, with the train operator bringing together the Great Northern, Southern, Gatwick Express, and Thameslink railways. It runs a four-year engineering apprenticeship, which takes place at East Surrey College in Redhill as well as depots across its network.

Finally, the British Transport Police are tasked with ensuring Britain's railway stations, tracks and depots are kept safe. If this sounds like a career you'd be interested in, read more about joining the police.

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