Transport policy and planning in the UK is becoming increasingly connected with the wider planning of other activities, such as education and healthcare provision. Consequently, there is a diverse market for transport and travel planning consultancy services.
A number of UK-based transport planning consultancies serve public and private sector clients around the world. Other civil and structural engineering and development planning consultancies also offer transportation planning services. A number of consultancies have been established to specialise in specific fields, such as walking, cycling and travel behaviour. Clients include international institutions, central and local government, transport operators, contractors, developers, manufacturers and financiers and other organisations, such as the NHS.
The diversity of transport planning makes it a dynamic and interesting business. This calls for a range of different skills and, therefore, provides opportunities for people with backgrounds in a variety of subject areas and disciplines. Aspects of transport planning may include:
- Environmental assessment
- Mapping techniques
- Market research
- Public consultation
- Information technology applications
- Business management and organisational reviews.
What’s it like in a consultancy?
Consultancies organise themselves in different ways, depending on their size, geographical coverage, areas of interest and organisational structure. In general, however, individuals find themselves working within project teams. The size and nature of these teams will depend on the needs of particular projects. Some projects will require staff drawn from different parts of the company, with different skills and areas of expertise.
Very large or broad projects may require joint working between consultancies, particularly if specific areas of expertise are required. In such cases, one consultancy will take the lead, with others acting as sub-contractors.
For any project it is important to assemble the most appropriate team, with the right mix of skills and most appropriate experience. People buy people – clients are looking for consultancies which can provide a team in which they can be confident; one which will deliver what they want, in the way they want and when they want.
As a project team is brought together, individual staff members will find themselves working to a designated project manager, rather than necessarily to their line manager. Unless a project is very large, individuals will find themselves working on a number of different projects at any one time, possibly within different project teams, for a number of different clients.
Depending on the size and complexity of the projects, someone may find themselves taking on different roles and responsibilities; in one project they may be providing expert technical advice, whilst being the project manager for another project. Consultancies are generally keen to involve people in these different ways to extend flexibility and encourage and develop their staff.
On joining a consultancy, the main focus will be project work. Again, dependent on the size, style and approach of the consultancy, there will be opportunities to become involved in other aspects of the business, such as marketing and winning work. Alongside a growing involvement in different areas of the business, there may be opportunities to develop particular specialisms appropriate to niche markets.
What’s the main focus within consultancy?
Meeting clients’ needs is key. It is therefore important to understand the reasons why organisations use consultancies to:
- Gain professional advice and assistance, or expertise in a particular area that they do not have themselves.
- Provide an objective and neutral view.
- Secure the staffing capacity to meet the demands upon the organisation.
Understanding clients is vital, ensuring that the work undertaken is in line with their aspirations and is of a high standard. This in turn will lead to additional work and follow-on commissions.
Projects may vary enormously in size. However, most projects will be time dependent or have particular milestones to be achieved within certain timescales. Whilst the traditional view of consultancy commissions is that they are freestanding studies, this is often not the case. Certainly for the public sector, there is increasing emphasis on partnership working or seconding staff to assist in certain roles. The type of work may take a variety of forms, including:
- Freestanding, independent study or review
- Strategy development and action planning
- Coordination of activities
- Managing the implementation of a project
- Evaluating or monitoring a scheme or project.
How would a consultancy look after me?
The people are the most important resource to a consultancy. After all, clients may choose to use a particular consultancy because of the calibre and expertise of its staff. The project teams that consultancies put together are made up of individuals with particular skills. Staff and their abilities are therefore valued. Consultancies recognise the need to care for their staff and seek to develop them to meet their full potential. A number of firms have developed formal staff training programmes. All are keen to offer career development opportunities and training to better equip their staff and extend their experience and knowledge.
Training will generally be tailored to the needs of the individual. It will usually include a mix of activities which will provide opportunities to flourish. These may range from specific training courses to on-the-job experience. The placing of staff within project teams provides good opportunities to devolve responsibilities, which in turn helps staff development. In all respects, it is in the interests of the consultancy to encourage individuals to progress within the company and to reward successful development through internal promotion.
With so much happening in the transport world, a career in transport planning consultancy offers exciting and interesting challenges and the opportunity for a variety of experience.
What’s the future in consultancy?
The broadening transport planning agenda is likely to ensure a continued demand for consultancy services, with an increasingly varied programme of work. The main emphases in the foreseeable future are likely to be:
- Ongoing major schemes
- More integrated approach to local transport planning, with linkage to other plans and strategies
- Development of third Local Transport Plans for commencement in April 2011
- Achievement of efficiency in transport provision, including better use of resources and improved use of transport systems, which may include demand management and restraint
- Influencing travel behaviour and improved information provision.