Careers with SYSTRA

Graduate Experience - Mark Lever

Assistant Transport Planner

I came to Birmingham in 2010 to study for an MEng in Civil Engineering at the University of Birmingham. I had previously rarely visited the city and it was only because of a course I had attended at the university while I was at school that I chose to study here.

Throughout my course I was exposed to a wide range of topics from learning how concrete sets to designing a new school in the Black Country. I was fortunate that I was able to arrange a number of work experience and placement opportunities alongside the more mundane lectures. I got a tour of an M25 widening project, spent three months in York in a rail design office and built an oil rig in Norfolk.

It wasn’t until my final year that I chose to undertake an optional module on highway design. By this point I was struggling to see myself working in a traditional engineering practice where so much of what you do is dictated either by those so many levels above you or by endless reams of design codes. Transport planning seemed to offer the perfect balance of requiring technical skills but still letting you think for yourself and come up with your own solutions.

I found JMP through a Google search for ‘Highways Design Birmingham’. It was the top result – credit to the social media team! I came along for an interview and was offered a graduate role shortly after. I started as soon as I graduated so, even though I missed out on my final long summer holiday, I didn’t have to move back home.

I began by mainly doing Transport Assessments and Travel Plans. These look at the impact of new development on existing transport networks and come up with ways that this can be managed and, ideally, convince people to use sustainable travel options. Every now and then I get to go out to an empty field somewhere and imagine how it could be served by a new road, cycle path or bus route. I get to use my imagination!

Whilst in the last two and a half years I have stayed in development planning team, I have broadened my experience by getting involved in a wide range of projects, from looking at the business case for a new station on the West Coast Main Line to developing a masterplan for a 6,000-house urban extension. I regularly work with our clients and co-consultants and have gained the confidence to run meetings and project manage.

Alongside my work SYSTRA is supporting me to complete the Transport Planning Society’s Professional Development Scheme, which gives me a way to monitor my development and target areas that I might be weaker in. I am hoping to complete the scheme this year and move on to gain the Transport Planning Professional qualification shortly after.

Looking back I am really glad that I kept saying "yes" as new opportunities presented them. I am definitely where I am more by luck than judgement but throughout I have been fortunate to work with really friendly and supportive colleagues.