Preamble: This is the second of three posts I intend to write on the transport profession. My goals are to 1) encourage people, especially students, to consider a career in transport and 2) foster a better understanding of pertinent transport issues.
A few weeks back I had the pleasure of popping into the Institute of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) Transportation Group conference in Hamilton (NB: Peter’s Sunday reading post linked to a couple of interesting papers from the conference). Attending the conference caused me to reflect on the transport industry, of which I have now been a part for just over a decade, and in particular how it has evolved over time.
In thinking about the evolution of the transport industry, I think it’s useful to distinguish between external and internal pressures. If you have been reading Greater Auckland (nee TransportBlog) for a while, then you may have noticed several blog posts that have been openly critical of transport engineering practices. Here’s one of mine from a few years back comparing roundabouts in New Zealand and the Netherlands, and another one looking at problematic intersections, for example. Such posts are examples of “external pressure”; they are a public statement that all is not well with transport industry practices in NZ.
External pressure can be effective, as evidenced by a number of changes that have been made after issues were raised on this blog. The intersection highlighted in this post, for example, has been modified such that pedestrians no longer have to make like Moses and part vehicles while crossing the Dead (asphalt) Sea.
While external pressure is important, I wouldn’t assume that it can be effective on its own. If you want things to change, then you will need to get people within the transport industry to agree. In my experience there are a lot of people working within the transport industry who are keen and willing to do things differently, who acknowledge the need for and benefits of external pressure, while also recognising its limits.
Having identified the need for both external and internal pressures to bring about change in the transport industry, I now want to highlight one positive trend that seems to be affecting the transport industry, which I’d like to see continue. That is, over the last decade I’ve noticed that people working in the transport industry are being drawn from an increasingly diverse range of backgrounds, and in particular academic backgrounds.
It should be fairly clear that developing effective transport networks demands more than skills in planning and design. Instead, your typical (large-scale) transport project might require people with skills in — for example — strategy, policy, planning, design, construction management, and analysis. The engineering and planning professions obviously don’t have a monopoly on such skills compared to other academic fields, such as policy, law, and the social/physical sciences.
Unfortunately, I still get the impression from talking to university students that the transport industry is perceived as a career primarily for engineers and planners. Many of us within the industry would like this to change; we’d like the transport industry to become a career of choice for talented people from a wide variety of academic backgrounds. We want to work with passionate people from across all the colours of the academic rainbow.
Partly for this reason, the IPENZ Transportation Group is coordinating a career’s day at the University of Auckland. The flyer is shown below; you can find out more on their FB page.
I’d encourage anyone who might be potentially interested in a career in transport to attend this meeting. Or if you know someone who is at university that is looking for a direction in which to head, then share this post with them.
In advance of the careers evening, I thought it might be useful for me to indicate some general associations between academic fields and industry activities, as shown in the table below (rows and columns respectively). The number of + indicates the strength of the association (NB: All this is fairly arbitary and unscientific, but it gives you a feel for where different academic fields might land).
|Economics and Business||+||++||+||+||+||+++|
|Other social sciences (e.g. geography and psychology)||+||++||+||+||+||+++|
|Technology (e.g. computer science and industrial design)||+||+||+||+||++||+++|
|Physical sciences (e.g. mathematics and physics)||+||+||+||+||++||+++|
The first (somewhat obvious) thing to highlight is that there is a wide variety of academic fields whose training leaves one well-placed to contribute to certain activities within the transport industry. Simply put, you could pretty much study anything and be useful, if you were passionate and dedicated.
The second thing to notice is that while each academic field is most relevant to a couple of activities, almost every field can be involved in almost every activity. Engineering tends to focus on planning, design, and construction, as does a couple of other fields such as planning, urban design, and architecture. Involvement in these activities is not, however, limited to these fields. I can’t imagine trying to get a major business case and construction contract over the line, for example, without some decent economic and legal input respectively. All the colours of the academic rainbow are needed!
Considering the industry activities denoted by the columns of the table, I think there are two that deserve specific mention: Strategy and Analysis. I mention these two because they 1) have historically not been strongly associated with the transport industry and 2) are increasingly important and inter-connected. Much of this change is driven by the need to link strategy to analysis so as to ensure the former is up-to-date with socio-economic and technological change. Strategy and analysis are also where non-professional degrees, such as the social and physical sciences, often have the most to offer the industry.
I should say that sometimes it is worth undertaking graduate study, such as a masters’ degree, as part of a career in the transport industry. The goal of such study would be to hone your understanding of relevant issues, terminology, and methods. There’s a couple such post-graduate qualifications available in New Zealand, and many available overseas if you’d like to travel at the same time as studying (as I have done).
That’s probably sufficient amounts of industry boosterism for one-day, but do come along to the Careers evening if you’re at all interested.
To finish, I wanted to include this video, which originates from a public transport careers evening held a couple of years back. The video shows a talk from Jarrett Walker, who many of you may know as a consultant who specialises in public transport. I actually worked with Jarrett on consultant team who led the initial design of Auckland’s new public transport network, which Auckland Transport are currently in the process of implementing. Fewer people may know, however, that Jarrett also has a PhD in English Literature, specialising in drama. Jarrett’s take on matters is worth a watch, even though it’s a couple of years old.
As an aside, in his talk Jarrett touches on the (economically) interesting topic of preferences, and in particular whether they are stable and consistent. I won’t dive into the details here, but this is a contentious and active area of research that I am interested in, and which I think may have signficant ramifications for not just transport but public policy more generally. I think it highlights that one of the reason we want people from a diverse range of academic fields is because they can often provide new insight. I know that working with Jarrett has had this effect on me.
Anyway, try and get along to the career’s day if you’re interested in knowing more, or alternatively — if you can’t make it — then message me on LinkedIn and I’ll try to help.