Ariel Jorre de St Jorre
- Course: MSc Transport Planning
- Year of graduation: 2019
- Nationality: Canadian/British
- Job title: Graduate Transport Planner
- Company: Atkins
I am a Graduate Transport Planner at Atkins working within our Transport Planning practice and wider Transport Consultancy Practice. I started my time at Atkins by doing some micro-simulation and strategic modelling, data collection for various projects and have worked on Travel Planning and Business Cases. The two workstreams I have been the most involved with are Funding and Financing applications and Stakeholder Engagement.
I started working on Funding & Financing projects through working on Town Investment Plans within small multidisciplinary teams (transport planners, economists, town planners) and completed the submission of three different TIPs. For this work my primary role was the collection of evidence through different means to set up a context for the project and provide insight into the Town for the Team. Part of it was a review of strategic documents to set a local, regional and national context for the Towns. Another part was running focus groups, client meetings, attending Town Board meetings and finally meeting with the delivery partner. Finally, I significantly contributed to the final deliverable and putting the submission to government together. My responsibilities often were to gather information ahead of meetings, coordinating with the project team to bring all the information together and prepare presentations, and also to present at meetings. I would take notes and gather feedback from various stakeholders to feed into the document and improve it as the project progressed. This type of project work is short and intense – not running more than 3 months but taking up to 100% of your time. However, these projects aren’t always running as they depend heavily on government announcements and guidance. I got into it by creating a good relationship with PMs and asking to be put on bids, or by offering to help with bid work, etc.
The other workstream that I am involved with is Stakeholder Engagement for largescale infrastructure projects. I currently work on the Transpennine Route Upgrade for the West of Leeds section of the project. On this project I work directly for the client. We have team within Atkins that we communicate with but mostly work directly for a project team led by the client. This brings together a very wide range of specialists such as Engineers, Ecologists, Town Planners, Transport Planners, Conservationists etc. to design the scheme, set up a consents strategy, and undertake heritage and environment assessments amongst other things. For this work I monitor, oversee and track all engagements along a specific section of TRU. I engage with technical stakeholders, not community stakeholder, so that includes Local Authorities, groups representing specific user groups, utility providers, landowners, etc. It all depends on the type of works that are being planned at different sections, who the works will affect, mitigating the impacts of the project on all those involved and following the existing statutory framework. My role is often more of a management position, coordinating and overseeing what others are doing and bringing different people together to overcome any identified risks or problems. This type of project work is not as intense, but can be at times, I usually book 20-40% of time to it and can go on for 6-12 months or longer. It is very client facing, good exposure and you learn a lot about project management and the specifics of your scheme, in this case the electrification of a rail line (which I might not have learnt as much about otherwise).
I felt when starting my job that I understood why we were doing our work. For example, with strategic modelling I knew about Saturn, I understood why we were creating these models and how they work. This helped me be more confident when completing my first tasks at Atkins. I also realized a lot of my coworkers (peers and senior) staff were alumni which made it easy to start conversations and expand my network. After a few years at Atkins this all still rings true. I often feel like I have a good understanding of my project work and the context of a project. I am also given tasks that very much resemble course-works I had at ITS or am asked to gather information on something I studied or used as a topic for a paper. I suggest keeping all your notes and course-works because they will come in handy later on.
I think ITS has a big emphasis on innovation. To be aware of the wider context of transport around the world and different types of innovation can really give you an added edge when working on projects.
My passion for transportation and ITS’s reputation as a leading school to study transport were the main deciding factors for me to complete my MSc at ITS. My background was Urban Planning and so completing an MSc in Transport Planning seemed like the best fit for me.
My advice to students interested in this course and a career in transport is don’t be afraid to express your passion for the field and if you have a specific interest it is worth trying to pursue it. If you want to get into a role, or find project work that interests you, enthusiasm and knowledge for a specific field can help you get there. ITS was a life changing experience for me and it can open a lot of doors for you when applying for jobs. It is just important to be able to talk about what you’re learning in a professional setting and not just an academic one. Think about how what you’ve learnt applies to project work - TIP is a very good example of how your academic experience applies to the real world.
I took part in the employer visits and was asked to attend GACs through a mix of the ITS Employer Visits and my online applications. I think it’s important to do both – online applications and the Employer Visits. The interviews at ITS can be a good opportunity to be asked to attend a GAC or get another interview. Even if they aren’t successful, they can be good preparation for a future interview you get through an online application. I would also recommend asking the interviewers at ITS questions about the role, the team, their favorite projects they’ve worked on. As it is a slightly less formal and less stressful setting than a GAC it’s a good opportunity to have a discussion and create a back and forth instead of them just asking you questions.
The highlight of my early career so far was my first Town Investment Plan being awarded £23m for the projects we put forward. I went into transport because I wanted to have a career that positively impacted the lives of others. Knowing that a town of deserving people were being awarded this money to develop a set of projects aimed at community wellbeing, active transport, social equality and achieving net zero objectives was very rewarding.
I feel the career advice that come from ITS was more valuable to me than advice I received from the University. Overall, ITS is very supportive and helps you understand what your career options are a well as encouraging you to apply to a range of different organisations and positions. I also got a lot of help and support from my peers at ITS. We often worked together to help each other prepare for interviews. If one of us had been to a GAC for a company and another was going we would share tips. I know it may seem like your peers are your competition but actually I think working together makes for more successful outcomes for everyone. I reviewed cover letters, proofread CVs and helped some friends who didn’t feel as comfortable in English to prepare their answers for interviews. In return, people helped me develop my answers for technical questions and quantify or pull out valuable parts of my past experiences to make my answers more robust.
It will always benefit you to help someone. I know people who got jobs through the recommendation of their peers at ITS – if you do well in an interview, recruiters can get in touch with you to suggest candidates for other positions etc. Once you are working it is so valuable to have a good external network that other Grads at your company may not. ITS offers you that on a silver platter and having a good network is a good asset in the workforce. My only regret was not being more engaged with the Career Fairs. It is a good opportunity to network, meet grads and learn more about companies.
My advice to ITS international students who are seeking work in the transport sector is to explore all your options, in the UK and abroad since you may not feel such a need to stay in the UK. If you speak many languages you can work in different countries. Be able to explain your experiences from a foreign country to your interviewer in a simple manner that provides context. They will have interviewed foreign people before but may not be familiar with the context of your country, how prestigious your university was, how prestigious your placement was. Don’t be afraid to explain those details. Also, set the context of your country as if the person has never been. For example, if you’re describing a difficult project you worked on make sure you can explain how you had to deal with it differently than you would in the UK – such as statutory, procedural or cultural differences. It shows you are aware of the British context and how it differs from your past experiences and showcase skills that people in the UK may not have making you more unique and valuable to a team.