Start your journey towards a career in transport

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
April, 2016

Discover what it takes to keep the nation moving and how you can play a part by working in transport management, operations or with a leading graduate employer

In 2015, the government pledged more than £70billion towards the improvement of Britain's transport infrastructure - the biggest rail investment since the Victorian era, and the most extensive road improvements in decades.

The aim was not only to ensure better journeys for people across the country, but to create an enduring legacy of opportunity and skills. The plan involved the delivery of 30,000 road and rail apprenticeships by 2020, as it seeks to recruit and train the next generation of transport workers.

'Training our rail and road workforce is essential if we want to build a transport network fit for the future,' said the transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, when the policy was announced.

Working in the sector

There are many career options in the transport and logistics sector for those with a degree in civil engineering.

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

Indeed, 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 also work in private consulting and construction companies, 'playing 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'.

Road maintenance

Employment opportunities exist in the maintenance and improvement of the country's busy motorways and major A roads. 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 the transport infrastructure.

Highways England offers a number of graduate and apprenticeship schemes in this field. Those on placements can expect to experience different parts of the agency, so you won't find yourself standing still.

The University of Nottingham's Civil Engineering: Highways and Transportation Msc blends academic study with the development of professional and practical skills so graduates are prepared for working in such a multidisciplinary setting. Civil engineers at the university will also be able to carry out research in the Nottingham Transport Engineering Centre (NTEC).

The value of chartered status

If you do decide to become a civil engineer in this industry, Andrew suggests that the work can be extremely rewarding, but it requires expertise and experience, and carries significant responsibility.

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

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

Management, planning and operations

As TfL points out on its graduate scheme website, 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 is 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.

Cardiff University's Masters in transport and planning is an example of a course with a broad outlook. While a postgraduate qualification is not essential for entry into 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. While the nature of the job can vary, you'll usually be involved with the planning, coordinating and managing of transport operations, dealing with such areas as: budgeting and financing; the management of day-to-day operations; service planning; strategic development; and marketing and PR.

Opportunities in rail

If you're close to graduation and looking for a structured career path, large rail operators have a number of work experience and apprenticeship places available each year.

For example, the Virgin Trains 'Get on Track' scheme, organised together with educational partners, is a 10-week traineeship that delivers a customer service qualification, while providing vital customer-facing experience. Participants can expect: weekly tutorials; a customer journey workshop; work experience at train stations; teambuilding days; and CV and interview workshops.

Virgin Trains' Talent Academy has also launched 'Right Track', a new apprenticeship scheme offering varying levels of attainment depending on an individual's particular career choice. For instance, in 2016, you could apply for an apprenticeship in: leadership and management (level 4); business administration/human resources (HR) (level 3); customer service (levels 2 or 3); or marketing and social media (level 3).

A member of Virgin Trains' Red Track Crew reveals that the company's 'Red Track' programme is a job with a difference. During the three years, students work towards an undergraduate degree in business management 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,' they explain. '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. One thing we have learned is that we should be ready for anything. The railway industry is challenging and complex but that is where it's exciting and really keeps you motivated.'

Despite the nature of the business, working for the railway is not 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 mathematics ability help to manage and forecast revenue and finances.

Virgin Trains also looks for those who have a real interest in people, and the ability to spot and recruit new talent; training and developing individuals so they are able to reach their full potential. 'Of course, there is 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 crew member.