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Insights How this graduate is challenging the world of transport

I’m Sam, transport planner at Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group, in the UK. I work in Bristol, in a laid-back, young team that enjoys plenty of socials at the pub. My team is made up of a diverse bunch of people. We’re all passionate about what we do, and the end results show it. Our diversity means we bring different ideas and viewpoints to the table and this helps us come up with some amazing solutions.

image of Sam smiling

What is a transport planner?

My grandparents consistently ask me why the bus is changing its route or why the bus driver wasn’t friendly. I have nothing to do with that! Transport planners are the heroes no one knows about – building our roads, sorting out our roundabouts and future-proofing our cities. 

Being a transport planner involves solving transport problems such as congestion, or planning to accommodate a city’s future growth. Some of our solutions at Atkins might be building the case for additional highway capacity, future technologies, or sustainable options like mass transit, walking and cycling.

What excites you about being a transport planner?

Everyone is impacted by and served by transport – it’s the lifeblood of the way we live. Working in this field enables me to play a part and help ensure essential systems operate well today and tomorrow.

I love working on many different things. In transport planning, our team members typically have multiple projects on the go at any one time. We, therefore, have multiple delivery deadlines with clients, but during projects, we collaborate and check in with clients to overcome any obstacles and talk things through to ensure we can meet their expectations and perhaps surpass them.

What got you interested in transport planning?

I studied Urban Studies and Planning at uni because I’ve always been interested in the key issues facing towns and cities. Some of these are the housing crisis, climate change, transport, growth, regeneration and sustainability. My course enabled me to critically explore these and apply them to the real world. I wrote my dissertation on transport, an integral part of how cities operate, exploring how the UK could learn lessons from other countries to increase cycling levels.

How did you come to work for Atkins?

image of a building

I heard about Atkins during my fourth year at university when I was beginning my search for employment after graduation. My brother-in-law previously worked for Atkins in Bristol and had positive experiences, so I decided to apply.

The Atkins graduate recruitment process was split into chunks. Firstly, I wrote a CV and cover letter, then progressed to a phone interview, before heading to an interview and an assessment centre here in Bristol. The process was hassle-free with the recruitment team doing their best to make the experience a little less stressful. The company reimbursed my travel fees from Sheffield to Bristol – which was good for the student bank balance!

What tips do you have for anyone attending the assessment centre?

Do a bit of research to learn about Atkins, its values, and past and current projects. Doing this will help you to understand the company and establish how you see yourself fitting in. 

What was your experience like on the Graduate Development Programme?

Progressing through the graduate scheme has given me opportunities to experience different aspects of transport planning, learn about its various fields and acquire the skills that go along with it. As my experience increased, I was able to start taking on more challenging projects, which has benefited my career.

I took part in a part-time secondment at Hampshire County Council for 18 months. Working for them two days per week, I got to see the other side of transport planning, switching from being a consultant to seeing how a client functions.

The secondment was significant and defining for me as it gave me independence and additional responsibility. It was my job to deliver good work and ensure my reputation and Atkins’ reputation was upheld and polished. I grew from the experience, understanding how to manage myself effectively and how to interact with clients, having sat in their office for so long.

Tell us about a few of your projects, big and small.

image of the Hampshire county council

When I was at Hampshire County Council, I was asked to collate and display transport datasets owned by the county, nationally available and open. This included census, traffic count, congestion, and collision data. After researching different tools, I ended up developing an interactive one. It was very rewarding to take on the sole responsibility of delivering the project, leading meetings, and innovating to surpass the client’s expectations. I have since applied the knowledge gained from this project to others.

Calne Transport Strategy is my smallest project. We’re outlining the key existing and future transport issues in the town, devising objectives for the strategy and planning transport schemes that can meet those objectives and overcome the issues. We’re working with local communities and the client collaboratively, which is rewarding.

The biggest project I’ve worked on is probably the West of England’s Joint Transport Study. It’s an extensive, future-thinking project to plan for the area’s challenging growth ambitions. The study sets out transport planning schemes to ensure the area’s transport systems operate efficiently, effectively and sustainably over the coming decades.

Did you ever feel overwhelmed working in a global company like Atkins?

No. Everyone has always been willing to pitch in and help me when I’ve needed them to. I’ll get informal advice from my line manager, mentoring from the Professional Development Scheme, and support from fellow team members on projects. Recently, while working on tricky timescales and budgets for a study report, my project manager helped me deliver my best by lending his expertise. In turn, whenever I can, I help colleagues by delivering technical tasks or sharing knowledge that I’ve gained.

What made you decide to stay with Atkins?

Thanks to my three years on the graduate scheme, I’ve experienced what it means to be a transport planner and what it means to work here. At Atkins we’re transforming the world together as challengers: challenging the way we do things, challenging the clients’ thinking and challenging ourselves. All with the aim of delivering the best possible solutions. The work culture, the people and our projects are amazing – it was a no-brainer to stay here. 

Who inspires you at Atkins?

image of employees at a christmas party

I enjoy thinking outside the box and coming up with new ways to travel. So I’m inspired by my colleagues at Atkins who innovate. They find new solutions and new methods to deliver something original to clients. Innovators in our team like to add interactivity to our previously static deliverables. What I mean by that, is developing interactive maps, new ways of displaying reports and analyzing through data dashboards. Together we’re currently looking into how AI and machine learning can benefit transport planning!

Do you have any advice for people embarking on a career in your field?

Be inquisitive and engaged, be a team player and have fun. Delivering the best work you can is the best way to get ahead. Being consistent, meeting timescales and communicating with others are important and sit well with others. Offering new and innovative ways of delivering projects also helps. At Atkins, networking and talking to colleagues can open up new opportunities. Have an open mind and say, ‘yes’ when they come your way.

Excited by the way our graduates are shaping our cities’ future? Discover more about our graduate development programmes across the UK today.