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How to get into transport planning as a graduate

Graduate careers in transport planning: what would I do?

Is transport planning for you? Find out how to gain work experience, the qualifications required and the prospects for a graduate transport planning job.

Graduates from a wide range of disciplines can become transport planners.

Transport planning straddles town planning, engineering and architecture. It concerns all modes of transport and influences the development and design of transport facilities or new buildings to maximise accessibility, improve journey times, reduce congestion and encourage sustainable and healthy transport.

Several employers of transport planners (also known as transportation planners), typically engineering companies, require a civil engineering degree; others specify a degree in a limited range of subjects – such as analytical subjects, geography and engineering. However, some companies are less specific regarding the subject, so it's possible to enter the profession having studied an unrelated degree.

Some employers, such as construction companies and local authorities, will have a transport planning department; other employers may be consultancies specialising in transportation.

What does a graduate planner do?

Transport planners improve and manage transport systems. On the job, you could help set up and run traffic models, check proposed layouts to see whether they will work in practice, analyse local government policy to advise clients on whether schemes comply or create maps using geographic information systems (GIS) software.

Projects that graduate transport planners might work on include:

  • assessing the business case for a new transport system, such as a railway line
  • designing the transport facilities for a new school and undertaking a transport assessment to ensure the impacts of school traffic are minimised
  • creating a strategy for a business to improve its sustainability credentials and the health of its staff by promoting sustainable travel to work
  • investigating opportunities for transport improvements in a regeneration area

Graduates who enjoy focusing on detail may find that working on transport models and close analysis suits them, while conceptual thinkers may prefer to look at policies and spatial planning or master planning – considering how high-level issues affect large areas of land.

Which employers recruit graduates?

Graduate employers include specialist transport planning consultancies, local authorities, engineering consultancies, planning consultancies, urban design practices and architects, management consultancies and transport providers.

Some graduate opportunities are available as graduate transport planning schemes, for example those run by AECOM, Arup, Mott Macdonald and Network Rail (civil engineering).

Remember, graduate schemes aren’t the only route into this career. Some employers recruit graduates as trainees on an ad hoc basis. Keep an eye out for opportunities on TARGETjobs as well as on the websites of relevant organisations and professional bodies.

Useful work experience for prospective transport planners

Getting some relevant work experience can boost your CV and help you decide whether transport planning is the right career for you. Some employers in this sector offer summer internships in transport planning and undergraduate year in industry placements.

Don’t worry if you haven’t managed to secure a formal placement though; there are other ways to gain experience. Some smaller companies may welcome speculative applications to shadow transport planners for a week or two.

What is the career path of a transport planner?

Many transport planners complete a professional qualification (see below), which is sometimes part of a graduate programme. Once completed, they often choose to specialise in a particular area, such as transport modelling, sustainable transport or travel planning. Others enjoy the variety and continue working across a wide range of areas.

Many transport planners aim to become project managers and leaders – sometimes moving to wider management roles. In more senior positions, transport planners manage larger-scale projects and take on increased responsibilities.

Professional qualifications for transport planners

You can gain a professional qualification in transport planning to give you chartered status, which is recognition from an industry organisation that you have a certain level of knowledge and experience. Professional bodies include the Transport Planning Society (TPS), the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT), the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) and the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). If you work exclusively in areas of transport planning that are closely related to engineering or design, you could work towards chartered engineering status with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

Chartership will require you to be experienced and to have been involved in a number of projects: for chartership with CIHT, for instance, you’ll generally be required to have worked in transport planning for at least five years.

Highs and lows of a transport planning graduate career

Planners are usually involved in the earliest stages of a project or redevelopment so it’s often a while before they see it fully finished and operational. Another consideration is that jobs may include working away from home or require relocation. On the up side, there is the potential for a high income and, of course, transport planners have a chance to make a noticeable difference to people's daily lives.

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