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  • Role: General Management Trainee
  • Location: Leeds
  • University: Durham
  • Degree: History with French

Katie Alloway

My summer placement at Centrica

My relationship with Centrica began when I joined their summer placement scheme. At the time I was considering a number of avenues including management consultancy and finance. I wanted to join a multi-faceted company, where no two days were the same and I could constantly gain a breadth of knowledge and skills.

I stumbled across Centrica online, and although I didn’t immediately recognise the name, I read on and was interested by its diverse businesses, its international reach and by the environmental challenges that it faces. I went through the application process and was given a twelve-week placement with British Gas Residential in Uxbridge.

I had a brilliant time living with 13 other undergraduates from across the UK at Royal Holloway University. The first few weeks involved a lot of travel, visiting different offices in Cardiff, Leeds and Southampton and meeting the customer service teams. Then I settled down into a number of projects including telephony change and competitor analysis. I was also given time to set up meetings with unrelated teams to gain a wider understanding, and took part in six Sigma training sessions.

After I returned to Durham University to complete my four-year History with French degree I was offered a place on the graduate scheme, which I accepted straight away. I had never immediately considered the energy industry as a graduate option, but I was surprised by how interesting, pertinent and diverse it was.

Starting with customer service and team leadership

I joined the General Management Graduate Scheme, after graduating with a 2.1. The nature of the scheme means that every six months you rotate to a new position, new business, and often to a new location, which is both challenging and refreshing. However, the beauty is that it is entirely up to you to decide which positions to interview for, depending on your career motivation.

In the summer I moved to live in Leeds, and joined seven other new graduates at a British Gas contact centre in the centre of the city. I started at the very beginning, spending my first four weeks in a classroom from 08.00 to 16.30 just as a customer service agent would, learning about our systems and customer service practice. With support from our trainers, I was then propelled into the live environment and took customer calls for two weeks. I dealt with everything from payments to direct debits to booking engineers, and I even made a sale. It was an eye-opening experience, and whilst preparing you for team management, it also demonstrated just how tough it can be on the front line.

I then spent two months managing a team of 12 customer service agents. All the day to day responsibilities of managing the team were given to me, and an average week would involve talking through the previous day’s performance, conducting one-to-ones and coaching sessions, performing quality assessments on call samples, and running team incentives to increase engagement. As a 22 year-old new graduate, the level of responsibility was daunting. However, it was a character-building experience that was supported by a mentor and line manager, so help was never far away. It has been my hardest role but also the most rewarding, and having that level of responsibility under my belt after four months was invaluable for future roles.

The final two months were spent on operational projects, where I delivered an HR feedback tool to the team managers in the contact centre. I managed a project plan, built the feedback tool, ran workshops to understand requirements, conducted testing and communicated the final solution. This provided me with my first taste of project management, which was to help me in my second role when I moved to Staines.

Working in project management

For my second placement I took up a role working for the commercial and marketing team at the British Gas head office in Staines. I moved again to live with two other graduates on the scheme, having rushed to find a new flat before the placement started. I now had three main areas of responsibility – communications and marketing of our new online and telephone services, building an analytical report to monitor the progress of marketing, and implementing text messaging as a communication channel.

My day involved building and implementing a communication plan by engaging with key stakeholders across the business. I also produced PowerPoint presentations to consider the strategy of text messaging, and wrote the copy for text and bill messages.

At the end of my first year I had been given a crash course in project management, people management and operational delivery, with training courses such as marketing, personal impact and energy market awareness thrown into the mix. The amount of skills I had picked up was pretty incredible, but it had also helped me to make decisions about where I wanted to go next.

Moving onto corporate reputation and marketing specialisms

I moved once again to Windsor, Centrica’s headquarters. I had secured my first choice placement from the interviews I had attended with the corporate reputation team, which formed part of corporate affairs. The team focused on Centrica’s corporate responsibility strategy and the corporate brand, and I had the chance to work across both.

My projects involved increasing local involvement, drafting corporate communications like the corporate profile, and delivering the Centrica re-brand. I also supported the delivery of the corporate responsibility report. In addition to these projects, I handled more day to day tasks including dealing with external emails, managing the graduate blogging area, and producing a monthly news round-up for the executive board.

I spent time representing the company at conferences, going on training courses, and even visiting the House of Lords on one occasion. I was also given a lot of freedom to deliver projects as I saw fit, and representing the company externally offered brilliant exposure.

My current role as a marketing manager for British Gas Services has taken me back to Staines, but thankfully I have not had to move this time. I’ve been working across two very different marketing teams, one focusing on the acquisition of new customers, and the other on retaining those customers. It can be challenging at times but it’s allowed me to get involved in a wider variety of work, including briefing in new marketing campaigns to our creative agencies, doing some customer analysis and research. On an average week I can be out of the office at least once visiting the creative agency, attending a conference or a customer research session.

Finishing up in the team has consolidated my learning as I hoped it would, incorporating marketing, communications, brand, sales and analytics. In the next few months the permanent roles will be circulated and we will interview for them as usual, except that they will now be for the long term. Centrica has provided me with a fantastic start to my career, with the reward far outweighing the challenges I have faced.

The best parts of the scheme

A rotation scheme provides you with the ability not only to try different specialisms, but also different businesses, different working environments and different locations. I have enjoyed being able to say that I have experienced customer service, team management, project leadership, corporate affairs and marketing and communications in the space of two years.

And the most stressful parts…

Rotating every six months comes with its challenges, as does operating in a large multi-faceted business. It’s sometimes difficult to hit the ground running straight away, and you have to accept that it will take a few weeks for you to understand your objectives, and the context of your role and team. By the time you feel truly comfortable, it’s time to move on, but that also strengthens your adaptability.

Valuable lessons I have learnt

The most valuable lesson I’ve learnt is to manage your manager. When you join as a graduate you must concentrate both on delivering against your objectives, and building on your personal and professional development. Work with your manager to ensure you receive the support and guidance that you need, and don’t feel scared to express your feelings or concerns about a current project or work process. Make sure you get as much value out of every piece of work that you can.

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