A young man in his graduation cap and gown

Meet Charlie Steel

We spoke to Charlie Steel to find out what inspired him to join VolkerRail’s Commercial Academy and become a quantity surveyor.

In my early twenties, I wasn’t sure what to do with my career. At the time I quite liked the idea of being a chef, so I went to work in a kitchen for a few weeks and really liked it, but as a sociable person, I didn’t like the long hours or the work/life balance.

I then had a conversation with my dad, who also works at VolkerRail, and he suggested joining as a commercial assistant on the North West Electrification Project (NWEP). When I first joined VolkerRail in 2017 I felt slightly conscious of my entry into the company. However, these feelings soon passed when I realised I was here on my own merit and that VolkerRail fosters a “family” business mentality.

VolkerRail Commercial Academy

I’d been working at VolkerRail for around a year when I realised that working in rail / construction was what I wanted to do. In order to progress my career I decided to join the Commercial Academy and become a quantity surveyor. 

I became aware of the Commercial Academy, and how it could benefit me, through conversations with both Jacqui Kennedy and Simon Gallagher. Both Simon, and VolkerRail’s learning and development business partner, Nigel Roberts, encouraged me to join and become qualified, in order to progress in my career.

The academy has grown substantially since I joined and is a great way of making key contacts within VolkerRail. A highlight for me, during my studies, was completing my dissertation. Although stressful at times, I felt a real sense of achievement when I handed it in. Having gone through the academy, it gave me the drive and ambition I needed, in order to excel in my dissertation, as I really cared about the content because I had that real life work experience.

I based my dissertation on collaboration, and I was able to draw on my experiences from NWEP, but more importantly, from my time within the REAL Alliance. I’ve also made life-long friends on my course, which is another positive of being in the academy. The course I undertook also helped me produce documents and reports to a higher standard, which is a valuable skill in this industry.

My career

I am currently working as a quantity surveyor on phase two of the East Coast Mainline Power Supply Upgrade, within the REAL Alliance in York. My role is a middle point between the alliance partners, alliance leadership team, and commercial team. Part of my role, which I something that I enjoy, is gathering information from the partners to produce month end reports. I also work on central functions such as risk and change management. It’s an enjoyable hybrid role, and not everyone gets the chance to work so closely with our alliance partners.

I’m proud to have finished my course with a first-class degree because that was my aim from the beginning. When I first started in the academy, I was tasked with creating a presentation, and one of my slides included where I wanted to be in ten years’ time. I listed getting a degree, continuing to work at VolkerRail, achieving RICS accreditation and becoming a senior quantity surveyor. Looking back at those goals - set six years ago now - knowing I have already accomplished half, and I’m well on my way to attaining the last two, is my proudest achievement.

My future

Because I relished my time in the academy, and at University, I’m now considering completing a master’s degree in construction law. However, I’m not quite ready to jump straight in yet, so I am focussing on getting RICS certified next spring, whilst enjoying a break from studying.

My advice to anyone considering joining the Commercial Academy, is to talk to someone with experience – or reach out to Simon. There are different options available, so find the one that suits your working style. A degree apprenticeship was perfect for me, but others who already had a degree wanted to do additional qualifications to broaden their knowledge. There’s lots of support from people who have been there before you. It is a great way of gaining exposure to the rail industry and learning at the same time.

When the opportunity arises, I would also like to mentor the current students joining the academy and offer advice and support.