Behind the Job - Darren Sterling, Director of Regeneration, Education, Public Buildings (EPB), and Sustainability at EQUANS.

  • 8th November 2022

Tell us about you and your job

Initially, I wanted to be an engineer as I enjoyed making and fixing things. That’s why while studying Project Management at university my degree also included some civil engineering. During my studies, I was fortunate to join Shepherd Construction’s graduate programme, where I worked for five years gaining a wide range of experience. 

Over the years I worked my way up at different companies before getting the opportunity to work in the Middle East for two years to gain exposure to bigger and more complex projects. On moving back to the UK, I worked on the Building Schools for the Future programme in the North East before taking part in a two-year leadership programme which acted as the springboard for my career progression into senior management.

I took a break to concentrate on the family business just before Covid hit, but when Coleman James flagged the job with EQUANS I knew it was a great opportunity to rejoin the industry and be part of an exciting, growing business. 

My role at EQUANS can be broken down into three key elements. First of all, overseeing the refurbishment of buildings, for example social housing improvements for registered housing providers.

Then there’s education and public buildings (EPB) which covers any public sector and higher education buildings. Currently, we work with a number of local authorities as well as Durham, Sunderland and Northumbria Universities. 

Underlying all of my work is sustainability with a focus on decarbonisation. Helping housing providers, local authorities and higher education to work towards their own and the government’s Net Zero 2050 target. Currently, we’re working with Newcastle City Council supporting their own decarbonisation scheme. The aim is to reduce the carbon footprint by improving buildings' heat efficiency to decrease both energy consumption and costs.  

What are the key skills required to do your job? 

People and leadership skills are key. You need to be able to communicate effectively, coordinate with others and ensure everyone is on the right page. I can’t do my job alone. That's why people skills are so important when it comes to working with your own, and other, teams.

Project management skills are also vital. They are what I always fall back on day-to-day. They cover everything from being organised, due diligence, planning and time management. Along with being proactive, it is these core skills that have served me throughout my career to date. 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The people and my team at EQUANS. Everyone has a great ethos and are genuinely a pleasure to work with. It’s a great feeling when everyone is on the same page working towards the same goal while supporting each other.

I have to say seeing a project coming to fruition is another reason why I love my job. There’s an aspect of looking at a finished building and thinking ‘I’ve done that’. Being able to leave something tangible and positive that will help improve people’s home, work and school life is an amazing feeling. Especially when everything has gone to plan, on time, on budget and the client is happy - professionally there’s nothing more rewarding.

What does your job entail day-to-day?

I have a team of eight people who report to me directly. Therefore, a lot of the time I’m liaising with them checking in on project progress, addressing any issues and offering them my support.

As with any role there’s quite a few meetings with various clients as well as both external and internal teams when working on a project. I oversee everything from a senior level and manage operations from the budget through to the profit and loss.

Everyday is different as each project and client has their own specifications and challenges but that’s what keeps things interesting. 

What advice would you give to someone considering a career such as yours?

That a university degree isn’t necessarily a prerequisite, as there’s plenty of people within the industry who have worked their way up. I did go the university route but have also learned so much since graduating, Having qualifications is useful but as you progress through your career there are opportunities to undertake targeted studies to develop commercial, financial, strategic or leadership skills.

The key to getting your foot in the door is to have the right attitude and a growth mindset so employers know you’re willing to learn. And if you’re the right fit for a company they’re often willing to train or mentor you. I'm still learning, so remember you’re never the finished article. There’s always something else to learn and especially from others so don’t be shy about asking questions as the majority of people want to help you by sharing their knowledge. 

What projects have you most enjoyed working on or are you most proud of? 

One that sticks out is a Gateshead school I worked on 13 years ago which was a mixed new build with refurbishment work. It was great to both create something new and give something old a new lease of life.

Another that comes to mind is an infrastructure project for the Dubai F1-X theme park. It was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to and now feel proud to have managed the pipe and wire systems under the theme park.

You work with Coleman James. Why do you choose them as your recruitment partner of choice? 

As a candidate, I really appreciate their honesty, constructive feedback and constant engagement. There’s a huge amount of trust as I know if a team member says they’re going to do something, they’ll come through and are always on hand to talk to. 

They’ve also supported recruitment into my team so in terms of the support they give EQUANS, their focus on what you’re trying to achieve and what you’re really looking for is vital. Getting this right up front, with great advice and time taken to understand your needs, ensures you get the right person for the role. 

Coleman James lives and breathes its values and principles. Its people never give you the hard sell, as it’s a business built on relationships.