Becky Oliver

Country of origin: United Kingdom

Transformation Project Manager, The Co-operative Group

When finalising her placement for her BA Management and Entrepreneurship degree, Becky Oliver made what might seem to some a curious decision: she turned down an HR placement with the oil company Total in favour of staying on to work in the Department of Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Innovation where she was studying.

'I chose to work with the Department of Entrepreneurship, Strategy and Innovation because I thought the opportunities were going to be good. And I haven’t been disappointed.'

The role which Becky took on was that of events co-ordinator for the Fresh marketing workshops – a series of workshops run by the department for owner-managers and employees from SMEs across the North West. The workshops are funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of a drive to improve marketing capability within the region.

One of Becky’s key tasks has been to identify and recruit firms to the programme who meet the ERDF eligibility criteria. She is events manager during the workshops, and she liaises with the expert contributors and outside speakers commissioned to deliver the workshop content. This has given her plenty of scope to apply the marketing principles she has learnt in her degree studies: 

'A lot of my work involves marketing and recruitment. I do a lot of travelling, meeting clients all around the North West. I go to visit them, talk to them about the workshops and do a diagnostic of where their marketing is at present and where they hope to be. I also do follow-up visits, to evaluate their feelings about the workshops and whether there are other forms of help they might need. The whole process is quite similar to consultancy, so it’s excellent experience.'

She was anticipating a more gradual initiation into the work of the department, but an early crisis in the small staff team meant that she assumed her recruitment role only weeks after starting: 'The workload has been one of the biggest challenges. But at the same time, it allowed me to do so much more – people could see that I could cope, so they gave me more responsibility. And I thrived.'

Applying the learning

The placement has given Becky a different perspective on what she has learnt in her academic studies:

'The modules are brilliant – they really push you. It’s learning not just through books – it mirrors the learning you get in an organisation, through working in groups, and doing a variety of tasks. But it’s quite static when you’re in lectures – you haven’t got the practical experiences to apply. Whereas when you’re on placement, what you’ve learnt really comes to life. You can understand the merit of what you’re learning because you can see it has practical use.'

She also feels that her decision not to do her placement in a large company has been vindicated, as she is enthusiastic about the benefits – for her studies and for her future – of meeting people from so many different, smaller businesses:

'I’m studying entrepreneurship – and in the workshops there’s a room full of small business owners. When I’m doing my coursework there are so many different companies I can now refer to. I’ll be able to differentiate why things might work in one situation but not so well in another. And it’s built up my personal network, which is a great advantage for the future.

'I was surprised at how willing the business owners are to be helped. I was aware how a small business owner very often has no-one to talk to because they’re at the top of the ladder. But I had in my mind that they’d be so busy, they wouldn’t be able to take time out of their schedule. When I saw them all together in the same room, sharing their knowledge and experiences with others facing similar situations, I realised just how powerful that can be. Throughout the relationship with the small company you see their progression in terms of their picture of marketing and what it can mean for their own situation.'

Her decision to study at Lancaster was not a difficult one:
'I came to the open day, and made the decision right away that Lancaster was the place for me. It offered me something practical, and I liked the Entrepreneurship degree as it’s a new course that’s really going to grab people’s attention.

'It’s a brilliant course, and if I had to make the decision again, I certainly wouldn’t change it. I came with the view that I would make these years at Lancaster the best years of my life – and they have been.'

When she finishes her degree she hopes to work initially in management consultancy . But in the longer term, she plans to put her entrepreneurship knowledge to the test:
'I want to have a restaurant in the future – that’s my dream. But I need a few year’s working to get the ability and skills to set up a successful business. I’ll know when I’m ready.'

Once she had graduated, Becky took up a place on the Co-operative Group's graduate programme.