Matthew Jack Career Profile photo

Role: Senior Design Manager

Career Area: Environment and Sustainability

Location: Manchester

My role at SYSTRA

I lead the Specialist Services Team within Environmental Services. Specialist Services covers a range of disciplines including Carbon and Climate, Environmental Risk Assessment, Noise and Vibration, Contaminated Land and GIS.

If Environmental Services decided to establish new disciplines, for example Archaeology or Public Health these disciplines would initially join Specialist Services.

It is my job to grow and develop these disciplines, win new work, and provide an environment in which individuals can grow and develop as professionals.

My career journey

I took a fairly odd route into Engineering as my degree was actually in Military History! Following on from my degree I took on a Level 3 apprenticeship in Civil Engineering, which was treated like a ‘conversion course’. I began my career working in the water industry and worked alongside the Environment Agency preventing pollution from entering rivers. In the course of the last 10 years I have worked in all sorts of areas including water, rail, management consulting, digital, highways, and flood and coastal erosion risk management – but always from a sustainability angle.

In 2017 I was awarded Young Environmentalist of the Year by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM). In 2018 I earned my two charterships as a Water Manager and an Environmentalist before joining the board of the CIWEM in 2019. I then represented the CIWEM as Junior President for 2021/22.

We asked Matthew…
When did you realise this was the career path for you?

My first day as an apprentice. I didn’t really join the industry on purpose, it was pure luck that I saw a job advertisement for an Apprentice Civil Engineer one day. Up until that point I had been stacking shelves in a supermarket for six years. Suddenly I had my own desk, a team of wonderful people around me, a career with progression opportunities, and best of all my career was saving the planet!

Have you got any words of wisdom for someone starting out in a similar role?

Take all the opportunities that you can as you never know where they might lead. My career has been built mostly on luck – luck that I saw the job advertisement to begin with, but I like to think I also created my own luck through taking as many opportunities as possible. One day, 2 years into my career, I saw an advertisement for a charity called Engineers for Overseas Development (EFOD). I joined and spent the next 2 years fundraising, designing and building a medical centre in Uganda in my spare time. On the back of that (mostly) I won Young Economist of the Year (YEOTY)! As I won YEOTY, I had a higher profile and was then successful in my application to become European Head of Quality at my previous company. As I was a Senior Manager, I was able to join the board of the CIWEM. As I was a CIWEM Trustee, I was able to become the CIWEM’s first Junior President – which no doubt helped my SYSTRA application!

Also remember to network. It’s a surprisingly small industry and I’ve worked with the same people many times. I’ve both had opportunities and given opportunities due to building a strong network.

How does SYSTRA stand out from the rest as a Great Place to Work?

SYSTRA clearly cares for the health and wellbeing of its employees. There are fantastic schemes that are pushed forward by our Wellness Champions, the Employee Assistance Programme, and many other opportunities that enable people to bring their whole selves to work. SYSTRA also provides opportunities based on an individual’s ability rather than ‘time served’, as can sometimes happen elsewhere.

With such power in diversity, what unique perspective do you bring to the table?

I am delighted that as an industry we are now promoting a more encompassing definition of diversity, thinking about things such as neurodiversity and socio-economic background alongside the other incredibly important aspects of ED&I. We are now thinking about equity rather than just equality. From my perspective, I have an immense sense of gratitude towards the industry. I come from the lower end of the socio-economic scale, in what the government terms an “urban area of social deprivation”. People from my estate and my school rarely get the opportunities I have been given. Part of what motivates me is making sure that, at the very least, people from all backgrounds are aware that these opportunities exist – because I wasn’t until I was 23. If I can do it then anyone can!

Where is the place that has inspired you the most?

Mayuge, Uganda. Working with EFOD, I was lucky enough to spend two weeks overseeing construction in Mayuge. It is still by far the thing I am most proud of in my career. We worked with a local construction company on the basis that they employ and train 6 individuals from the village itself. Uganda, and Mayuge in particular, is a tough place to live and jobs are hard to come by. I love knowing that the direct actions of my group changed the lives of those 6 individuals – by training them, giving them 4 months experience in construction, and mentoring them, they now have careers that really weren’t on the table beforehand. They can use those skills to provide for their families. I spent a lot of time with them, and I’m just absolutely delighted we were able to offer them the opportunity.

What does true sustainability really mean to you?

I have a pet peeve… people who think sustainability = environment, and environment = carbon. It doesn’t and it isn’t. Sustainability is everything – environmental yes, but also social and economic. The beauty is that all the strands tend to complement each other. True sustainability will meld together environmental, social and economic needs in order to deliver the best outcome for people and the planet.

What would a green future look like?

It looks sustainable, adopts zero waste systems, incorporates green energy, involves rain water harvesting and prides itself on its ethical supply chains.

How do you look after your wellbeing outside of work?

I have lots of hobbies. I’m a keen carpenter, love vegetable gardening, dabble in bronze casting and blacksmithing, and have been learning German for the last few years (aber ich bin noch schlecht!). I also love pottering around farmers markets with my wife and beautiful daughter.

If you could spend your lunchbreak with someone you really admire, who would you choose?

David Attenborough. I don’t think this really needs an explanation! The man is a legend and the tireless work he has done in highlighting the climate and ecological crisis means he should be held in the highest regard.

If you had to pick, which mode of transport would you use for the rest of your life?

I visited Switzerland recently and the integration of their public transport system is flawless. No matter where I was, I was never more than five minutes away from a bus, tram or train stop, and I never had to wait more then 10 minutes to get on one. Living in northern England, my jealously was unbounded. There are two buses a day in my village and it’s 5 miles to the nearest train station! I would love a more European approach to integrated transport in the UK.