Role: Assistant Consultant
Career Area: Transport Strategy and Planning
My role at SYSTRA
In my role at SYSTRA I provide technical support to the Transport Planning teams across Ireland and the UK in the preparation of local transport plans, business cases for infrastructure projects and transport strategies.
I am heavily involved in the visualisations of transport proposals through GIS digital mapping and challenge myself by undertaking data analysis.
I treat every project and task as an opportunity to learn and acquire new skills.
My career journey
In May 2021 I completed a double major degree in Economics and Geography, throughout which I had become set on working in the planning world. However, at the time I was unsure if I should pursue a Masters Degree to better prepare myself for entry into the sector, as due to the Covid pandemic I had missed out on internship opportunities. From extensive research of the industry and looking at many job profiles, I realised that whilst a Masters would be beneficial, my involvement with college committees and part time work meant I had the right mix of technical and soft skills to start gaining practical experience.
I chose SYSTRA due to their expertise in the sector, and with several of their recent project successes being completed in my local area, they offered the opportunity to work directly on projects that I would actually see realised!
We asked Ben…
When did you realise this was the career path for you?
From a young age I had an interest in the built environment and how the world’s cities work, which initially led me to wanting a career as an Engineer or Architect . That was short-lived during school when I became aware of how broad a subject Geography was and its role in explaining how society functions, and due to my poor grades in construction! In college I choose to study Economics and Geography to further develop my understanding, and I became aware of the complementing sectors of Urban and Transport Planning. Through my own travels commuting from suburban Dublin to the city centre seven days a week, I made sense of the connection between what I was being taught, my daily experiences, and the impact that changes to transport can have on society. This resulted in me choosing to pursue a career in Transport Planning, as you can’t have an urban environment without integrated public transport and road networks.
Have you got any words of wisdom for someone starting out in a similar role?
Be prepared to continue learning, ask questions and challenge yourself. While it is cliché, remember that you never stop learning. The first six months will be highly informative, learning new skills or adapting existing ones. If you are ever in doubt about tasks given to you, ask for clarity or assistance, even if that means calling someone on Teams from home instead of talking to the person next to you. While it can sometimes be harder in the hybrid model of work to get answers or know who to ask, do not let it hinder your learning and development. In a similar fashion, its important to challenge what you know through seeking a diverse range of tasks and putting yourself out there to take on roles that may be out of your comfort zone. This will help to ensure that you get a broad range of experience at the start of your career. But, in doing so, be prepared to ask colleagues questions, or for explanations and demonstrations on unfamiliar software programmes – they can help solve a matter much quicker.
How does SYSTRA stand out from the rest as a Great Place to Work?
SYSTRA stands out from its rivals as having a much smaller and more focused Dublin team, which allows for greater cooperation and more direct communication channels. It has been highly beneficial as a graduate to have the opportunity to work alongside local Directors who can share their expertise and have open discussions about the world of transport. The relationship with the UK, especially through graduate and development events in offices across the two countries, helps to form an international network with colleagues from all sectors.
With such power in diversity, what unique perspective do you bring to the table?
I feel that having a background outside of Engineering offers greater inclusion of varied ideas and suggestions, and helps to create diverse opinions. This has enabled me to provide unique perspectives in project and office-based discussions, and at times I have encouraged colleagues to rephrase their ideas, away from technical terms into language more easily understood. As someone who commutes almost exclusively by public transport, I also have years of experience as a user that motivates me to improve travel for everyone however I can.
Where is the place that has inspired you the most?
Manhattan has always amazed me as a city centre island that more than doubles its residential population every day due to commuters, tourists, students and broader city residents that rely on its services. With a complex network of tunnels, bridges and rivers, all modes of transport (helicopter commuters and cable cars included!) are present. The grid network that was built for the car is increasingly being remodelled to suit the 21st Century with bike lanes, bus corridors and new pedestrianised zones showing us how cities can adapt. The availability of green space (with Central Park and local squares that host community events) allows access to open space for leisure and recreation for everyone in one of the most densely built environments on the planet. There is also an addictive energy in the city that encourages you to never be still for long.
What does true sustainability really mean to you?
Sustainability means creating a future that is economically, environmentally and socially viable for everyone. Where all activities globally are done in balance and harmony with the environment and the resources it provides. Transport is one of the major pillars of this – from how we get from point A to B, to the delivery of goods that we need to consume, and in how accessibility to different forms of transport can provide or hinder opportunities. It also involves updating building practices to more sustainable methods of construction so that what is built today does not come at the expense of tomorrow.
What would a green future look like?
A green future would be one in which the built environment exists in harmony with nature, in so far as neighbourhoods are planned with effective land use zoning, the 15-minute city will be the realised, and commuting long distances with car parks at every amenity would be considered odd. The production and distribution of daily goods would be localised and regionalised wherever possible to minimise transport, with progress in agriculture towards urban and regenerative farming. A green future is one that compromises between what we have today and The Line.
How do you look after your wellbeing outside of work?
As I spend most of the working day sitting inside, I tend to go straight for the outdoors once I’m finished. Usually for a walk or a run in my local area. I am also nearly always planning a holiday or buying concert and festival tickets to ensure I can get away from the laptop for a few days every so often.
If you could spend your lunchbreak with someone you really admire, who would you choose?
I’d enjoy sitting down with US President Joe Biden to discuss his decades in local and international politics and governance. It would be fascinating to hear about the changes in the world he has seen and his opinions on being President during such a dynamic global shift, and throughout such historic events. I would also ask about his government’s success in guiding the economy through the Covid pandemic, and in combating inflation whilst implementing some of the largest fiscal programmes in the US for decades in the areas of transport, society and the green economy.
If you had to pick, which mode of transport would you use for the rest of your life?
I would have to say walking! I love the journey time reliability it offers, and the pedestrian experience will only improve and become more feasible within a climate conscious world.