Meet Helen, the Director of Employee Relations and HR Operations for Centrica plc, a FTSE 100 company who provide energy, homecare services and innovative technology to heat and light homes across the UK and many other countries across the globe.
I joined British Gas (part of the Centrica group) immediately after my GCSEs. I didn’t like academia, so A levels and University never featured in my career plan. I struck a deal with my parents that I could leave school if I took an apprenticeship that allowed me to continue my education. British Gas supported me through two business management qualifications and as soon as I was studying something I was truly interested and invested in, my grades and attitude towards learning fundamentally changed. In my first role at the age of 16 I found myself writing press releases, organising events for thousands of people, working with famous sports/TV personalities and MPs, and appearing in brochures selling gas appliances!
Why did you choose to complete an apprenticeship with British Gas (Centrica)?
British Gas was a major employer in my local town and had a great reputation for supporting and investing in their colleagues and providing fantastic benefits and career progression. The support they made available via mentors and line managers was a really important factor when deciding whether this was the company for me. As a nervous 16-year-old with no work experience and very little life experience I needed to be confident that I would be set up for success and be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. I also knew I needed variety of work; I was naive and didn’t know what jobs even existed, so the apprenticeship offered me the opportunity to try different things in a safe learning environment. Fast forward 30+ years and I’m still here and still learning every day; having had the opportunity to do a huge variety of roles and having learnt so much along the way I’ve never felt the need to move to another company. Centrica is a business that never stands still so it feels like over the years I’ve worked for many different organisations.
What new skills/knowledge did you gain through the apprenticeship?
Through doing my apprenticeship I gained a foundation in business; working across many different teams which helped me at an early age find what I was good at and what I enjoyed doing which has helped shape the rest of my career. It also helped me establish what I wasn’t good at or didn’t find fulfilling which has meant there have been very few roles I’ve since done that I haven’t enjoyed. My apprenticeship enabled me to learn on the job while at the same time completing qualifications at college - the two went hand in hand; what I learnt in the classroom I could apply back in the workplace and vice versa. It also re-ignited my passion for learning which I had lost during secondary school. The diverse skills and knowledge I gained during my apprenticeship I still use today, and I have no doubt that I would not be in the role I am now if I hadn’t had those opportunities. I learnt what different parts of the business did, I built a huge network of contacts both inside and outside the business, I learnt how to communicate effectively and I was given huge amounts of responsibility which at the time felt daunting but looking back it was exactly what I needed. I also learnt the value and difference that a great manager/mentor/role model can play in someone’s life, so this is something I make sure I ‘pay forward’ by helping other colleagues achieve their goals and aspirations.
How do you think the programme helped your future career goals?
It gave me the courage and motivation to give anything a go, try different roles and find what field I really wanted to be in, what I enjoyed and could excel in. It gave me exposure to so many of the functions in a big organisation and a broad set of skills, experiences and exposure. As a result, any role I’ve been interested in since has been accessible to me because I can demonstrate the experience I’ve gained and what I’ve achieved. The support I got from my managers and mentors made me think differently about myself, my work and my abilities, realising anything is possible if I put my mind to it. It also regularly took me out of my comfort zone which at the time felt hard but afterwards gave me huge satisfaction. It really helped me learn at an early age that making a difference and supporting my colleagues was what truly motivated me and therefore shaped my career path into HR.
What would you say to anyone looking to join an apprenticeship?
Give it a go and hopefully you’ll never look back. Choose something that you enjoy, a long day at work is much more pleasurable when you’re doing something you like. Put every ounce of effort into it that you can, you’ll get out of it what you choose to put in, if you work hard, if you’re accountable for yourself, if you’re proactive, ask for help when you need it and take on board and action feedback, you’ll have a great experience and can achieve great things. Plus, don’t worry if academia is not your thing either, the apprenticeship will give you a brilliant blend of work and learning with a qualification thrown in too. And my final top tip that my Dad gave to me …join the pension scheme as soon as you can!!
Director - Employee Relations & HR Operations