Growing young people’s skills

Iain Heath, Centrica's Head of Graduates, tells us about how Centrica is helping grow young people's skills

Today’s guest blog comes from Iain Heath, Centrica's Head of Graduates.

Iain is responsible for all of the graduate programmes across Centrica and looks for people with the energy and creativity to become future leaders that will help us deliver our strategy.

Iain Heath, Head of Graduates, Centrica:

Over the past decade the number of 18-24 year olds in the UK not in education, employment or training (NEETs) has grown to a staggering 896,0001. It’s clearly a big problem, and during a period of continued economic difficulty and crowded job markets, I believe it’s more important than ever that young people have the opportunity to gain valuable work experience. Work experience can transform the career prospects of young people by ensuring they gain essential workplace exposure and transferable skills; this then places them in a stronger position to enter the world of work and reduces the risk of them becoming NEETs.

As a British company, we want to help young people in the UK get a fairer deal. We have recently committed to provide 450 new work experience placements predominantly in customer service, we have over 1,100 apprenticeships across the business and we also offer numerous opportunities on our graduate programme. Today though, I want to talk to you about the Summer Placement Programme which my team and I run.

What is the Summer Placement Programme?

Our award-winning Summer Placement Programme has recently concluded its seventh successful year providing over 50 students with hands-on experience during a ten-week programme that shows what it’s like to transition from university to the workplace. In recent years we have noticed a stronger student demand for longer, more-in-depth work experience placements, so in response we’ve provided more Year in Industry (YINI) opportunities.

And what oles are available on the Programme?

Students can enjoy a diverse range of exciting opportunities across our UK upstream and downstream business, such as working in Customer Operations, Engineering, Procurement and Supply Chain, or within our most popular areas for applications - HR and Finance.

During the placement we ensure students get the most from their experience and achieve their full potential. We task them to deliver projects that make a genuine contribution to the business while ensuring they are nurtured and supported throughout. We provide an effective support system that includes partnering them with Graduate Talent Managers who oversee performance development as well as pairing students with graduates so they can share their experiences together.

The students are also encouraged to get involved in charitable activities. This builds students’ entrepreneurial and innovative skills, while also demonstrating the important contribution responsible businesses can make to society. And over the last three years, students have raised over £50,000 for our strategic charity partners such as Shelter.

Building a diverse and talented workforce

To ensure our continued business success, it’s important that we create a diverse and talented future pipeline who have the right skills required to serve the needs of our customers. The Summer Placement Programme is essential in helping us achieve this, so we make sure that the best students have the opportunity to pursue work experience irrespective of their background. For example, we provide free accommodation and a salary throughout the placement which ensures students from all backgrounds are able to benefit from the experience.

Work experience is additionally often a route to long-term employment, whether it’s within the same company or at another. Recent research from High Fliers shows that a record 37% of entry-level positions in 2014 are expected to be filled by graduates who have already worked within the organisation2.It’s the same at Centrica - in recent years, around 40% of Summer Placement students progress onto our graduate scheme.

At Centrica, we’re proud to contribute to the development of student talent within the UK. Not only does it benefit our own business by allowing us to retain high-performing talent needed for the future, but it also has wider benefits for the energy industry and society in general.

Q. What motivated you to sign-up to the Summer Placement Programme?

Before I started university and before my summer placement, I first completed a Year in Industry (YINI) within the Health, Safety, Environment and Security (HSES) department at Centrica. During my YINI placement I enjoyed learning about HSES roles and responsibilities within a large energy organisation and the important role it has in any responsible company. This is particularly true for the energy industry, where the consequence of poor HSES management can have a devastating effect on the environment, our people’s safety and local communities. The fantastic time I had during the year motivated me to come back for a process safety summer placement as a Chemical Engineer.

Q. Tell us about your placement and has it helped you develop as an individual?

The placement was really interesting and involved defining what tools, information and other resources the process safety community possess, as well as what they require and how we can best fill these gaps.

The ongoing relationship I’ve had with Centrica’s Talent Managers has been excellent. I started my placement knowing I would be treated as a valued colleague and be given development opportunities whilst working in a helpful and friendly environment. I’ve been able to develop a self-starting attitude, resilience, communication skills and confidence in myself to deliver high quality work in a timely manner. I believe my experience with Centrica has been invaluable for developing the basis of a strong skill set as an engineer at such an early point of my career.

Q. What would you say to anyone thinking of participating in a work placement programme?

I would always advise to do it! Work experience allows you to develop skills needed for the workplace; skills you might not otherwise gain in an academic environment.

You should, however, think very carefully about the type of experience you’re looking for, what you want to achieve and how it will add to your career development. Sometimes students panic that they won’t secure work experience, so they send off many applications for all sorts of roles, and consequently they don’t always get as much value from their placement because they end up working in an area that’s not their top choice. Having said that, I believe all experience is good experience and the skills learnt are often transferable to other jobs.

Lastly, don’t feel disheartened if you find it difficult to obtain work experience. You can improve your chances by starting your search early and by getting as much feedback as you can on your application and interview so that you can do better next time.

If you’d like to know more, visit our Summer Placement Programme website, facebook page, or read some of our student blogs.


1 NEET: Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training – Commons Library, Standard Note SN06705, 21 August 2014

2 High Fliers Research, The Graduate Market in 2014