Attracting the Best

How a professional qualification in HR can boost your career

CentricaCentrica plc is a British multinational utility company and the UK’s largest energy supplier. The owner of British Gas, the group has an interest in the whole of the energy chain from exploration and production to supplying electricity and gas to consumers and business.

With 39,000 employees across the UK, North America, Canada, Norway and the Netherlands, Human Resources plays an essential role across the business and the company has invested in a specialist three year HR graduate programme to attract the very best talent.

We are all aware of the Diploma’s importance in opening up opportunities in the future and it was something I was looking for when applying for graduate programmes,”

Emma Parkes

Part of an award winning corporate graduate recruitment scheme, the HR programme has been running for several years and has an intake of between six and ten graduates each year. Its aim is to create HR professionals of the future and central to its success are three rotational placements across the Centrica Group and within the different parts of HR, where the graduates build up a portfolio of skills and learn about the overall business.

Also key, is the provision of a nationally recognised professional qualification in HR and all graduates on the programme enrol on the CIPD Advanced Diploma delivered by Watson Martin Partnership at the start of their second year.

Programme sponsor is Simon O’Farrell FCIPD, an HR Partner at Centrica, who went through the Advanced Diploma with Watson Martin Partnership five years ago.

His role is to ensure that the HR programme meets the company’s talent pipeline forecast, provides the best opportunities and development for those involved and, above all, attracts the most talented graduates on the market.

Click on the tab below to find out what he has to say.

Simon OFarrell
  • Simon believes the CIPD qualification is an integral part of Centrica’s graduate programme as it brings together two strands of learning.

    “In the workplace, you can develop practical HR capability in all areas within HR. The CIPD qualification gives you the opportunity to link that with HR best practice and opens the door to developing networks within the HR community outside of Centrica. By providing the opportunity to work towards the CIPD qualification, it ensures that our graduates continue to build on their academic portfolio as well as gaining first hand HR experience which supports their learning,” he explains.

    Simon’s experience in gaining the Advanced Diploma helped to shape the graduate programme not only to suit Centrica’s business needs but to align it to the CIPD qualification.

    “Our graduates join Centrica and during their first year’s placement have the opportunity to understand our business, what it means to work in HR but also to start to understand their own development needs,” he points out.  “We then commence the CIPD programme in the second year which, to me is perfect timing.  Having realised how much my own work experience benefitted the CIPD programme, our graduates have had the opportunity to gain a full year’s experience as well as continuing to grow as they work towards their qualification for the final two years.”

Professionalism of Tutors

All graduates on the Advanced level programme are allocated their own Watson Martin Partnership dedicated experienced adviser to support them throughout the process allowing them to work at their own pace with maximum flexibility. Regular one-to-one contact either by Skype, meeting, phone or email takes place throughout the programme which can take up to two years but is often completed in a shorter time. To achieve their Masters level Diploma, the graduates must pass eight modules, four mandatory including two examination modules, and four optional.

Watson Martin Partnership’s mixed mode CIPD status, which combines blended methods with work based assessment of competency, and the qualification’s modular design make it perfect for candidates to use their own HR experiences as part of the process.  And, with 16 modules to choose from – the widest choice offered by any CIPD centre – there is something for everyone.

What stood out for me about Watson Martin Partnership,” Simon remembers “was the professionalism of the tutors and the emphasis placed on creating your own development plan during the course of your studies which meant that you could align your study to real time practical situations in the workplace. From my own experience of being on the programme, I quickly realised how ‘cold’ my answers would have been without real practical work examples to bring situations to life.

And the result, click on the tab below to learn about the excellent results from the programme.

  • Excellent Results

    We have had very positive feedback from the graduates who have been through the CIPD programme with Watson Martin.  Good relationships have developed between our graduates and the Watson Martin team and we have seen some excellent results from our graduates obtaining merits and distinctions in some of their modules demonstrating the high capability of our graduates and the high level of coaching received from Watson Martin,” he adds.

    Advisers from Watson Martin Partnership, including the company’s two managing partners, Heather Watson and Melanie Martin, have been supporting graduate cohorts in organisations such as Centrica for a number of years. “It is this experience and level of expertise”, says Melanie “that brings good results and success”.

    Our team is well placed to appreciate Centrica’s strategic HR objectives and we have a very good understanding of how the graduate scheme works, including the rotations, and what is expected in each area of the business,” she explains. “Robust reporting to track progress, ensuring modules choices are appropriate and listening to graduate feedback means the programme is continuously evolving to maintain our edge.

Tried and Tested Formula

As well as advice and guidance, we provide valuable pastoral care to our candidates who often contact us post qualification for information on particular subjects, which is testament to the strong relationships we build.  Students are encouraged to achieve the highest level of CIPD membership they are eligible for and we guide them through this process.  Our tried and tested formula produces good results and our success is down to excellent support from the advisory team and committed candidates who want to do well.”

Melanie reiterates the importance of the programme’s flexibility in delivery allowing candidates to tackle modules as and when they are exposed to that particular subject during each rotation of the graduate scheme.

Centrica candidates are focused, committed individuals who recognise the value of the qualification in supporting their HR roles but they are also in busy, demanding jobs.  The fact that they can use work based projects to provide evidence based responses to the assessments means they can successfully juggle the programme with a full work schedule. Additionally, running a CIPD programme in house allows candidates to benefit from group support, seek advice from those who have already completed the programme, and it helps them relate current HR management themes to their own organisation,” she adds.

Individual Success Stories

Many of the graduates who have been through the Centrica development programme have been promoted to Heads of HR or as HR Managers in specialist areas such as talent and reward. Wherever their careers take them, they have a firm grasp of many of the core principles of HR management which they can build on in the future.

Find out more about their individual successes below.

  • Matthew Turner-WilsonMany of the graduates who have been through the Centrica development programme have been promoted to Heads of HR or as HR Managers in specialist areas such as talent and reward.  Wherever their careers take them, they have a firm grasp of many of the core principles of HR management which they can build on in the future.

    One former Centrica graduate currently climbing the career ladder is Matthew Turner-Wilson who completed the qualification in 2015 after achieving a crop of distinctions and merits and is now a Talent Manager for the Group’s centre of excellence.

    Varied HR roles

    A former History graduate from the University of Nottingham, Matthew applied for the Centrica programme after completing a summer placement with the group.

    The graduate scheme at Centrica was great,” he recalls, “because it gave me the opportunity to do four diverse roles in completely different parts of the business.  As a result, my network is huge and I have a good understanding of the business as a whole. I was thrown into real and varied HR roles from learning the basics of employee relations working with trade unions to a specialist resourcing recruitment placement involving all the recruitment for one of our businesses.”

    Gaining his CIPD Advanced Diploma was something Matthew wanted to do when he joined Centrica. He discovered that despite a busy job, he had time to juggle work with studying and managed to complete the programme in 17 months.

    You just have to get your head down, put the time aside and do it,” he explains.  “I tried to choose modules such as employment law and performance management where I could put into practice what I had learnt in my day to day work and this definitely helped.  Gaining the qualification as a whole gives you an intangible confidence that you are good at this and you know the theory.”

    Think Strategically

    Matthew also believes there is great value to the company in gaining the qualification.

    If you want graduates to be HR directors of the future which is what we want then you have to give them the tools to make them be not just operational but to think strategically, which is what this Masters level qualification does as a whole.  It helps to pull you out of your day to day operational and tactical work and that offers huge value in that it broadens your perspective.”

  • Also taking giant steps in her career is Frances Maddocks, an HR Strategic Project Manager at Centrica, who recently obtained her Advanced Diploma in 19 months.

    Mentoring Scheme

    Frances’ interest in HR was sparked by a mentoring scheme at the University of Manchester where she was studying for a degree in Politics and International Relations. A successful application for the Centrica graduate scheme followed and she joined the company in September 2014.

    Frances began the graduate programme with a three month customer facing placement in the company’s call centre learning about the range of products and services offered by British Gas.  Since then, she has experienced roles as an HR Manager in the group’s social housing business, a move up to Aberdeen to take on an HR Business Partner role in Exploration and Production, followed by a placement at head office in Windsor as an HR Change Transformation Specialist working on team transformation and organisational design.

    Now working as an HR Strategic Project Manager and coming to the end of the graduate scheme, Frances can reflect on its impact.

    Pushed and Challenged

    I have had a very positive experience,” she says, “and have enjoyed really varied roles.  I feel that I have been pushed and challenged to develop.  The opportunity I have had to move around to experience all the different business units in Centrica is like seeing many different companies in terms of culture. It’s almost like learning from scratch, but each time your learning is quicker and you get up to speed more quickly because of the inherent knowledge and the networks you have made.”

    Also a high achiever notching up a string of merits whilst achieving her Advanced Diploma, Frances recalls that having Watson Martin’s Managing Partner, Melanie Martin, as her personal adviser was very helpful in terms of ensuring the qualification was not simply theory based.

    My aim was to get the qualification, do well and support my business knowledge. Melanie’s commercial background meant that she completely understood this and always related my learning back to the business context rather than it simply being an academic tick box exercise.  She had really good knowledge of recommended reading materials and helped me to choose my modules based on what I was doing at work and what I was interested in.  It was a very rewarding experience,” she says.

  • Currently half way through her CIPD Advanced Diploma is Emma Parkes, who joined the company after graduating from the University of Birmingham in October 2015.

    With a degree in Business Management which included a placement year in an HR position with Peugeot Citroen, she was confident that a career in Human Resources was the right way forward.

    Competitive Advantage

    People are the most important part of a business,” she says, “and driving capability can give companies a real competitive advantage. Realising this helped me to decide to go into HR. I had a gut feeling at the assessment day that I could see myself working there and was very happy when Centrica rang me the next day to offer me an HR graduate position.

    I’ve really enjoyed it so far. My first placement was in the HR team in Stockport which supported all of British Gas services at the time so looking after 15,000 employees.  Every day was different and I was dealing with queries from disciplinaries to performance management, the real nitty gritty bread and butter HR. It was a great learning opportunity.”

    Now on her second placement at the Windsor HQ, she is in more of a project management role supporting Learning and Development transformation from a systems perspective which even involved a trip to Houston.

    Virtual Learning Environment

    With such a busy job, Emma has had to set herself strict deadlines to ensure she makes time for her Advanced Diploma and is already through four modules, receiving merits for everything so far!  Studying for her qualification has improved her knowledge and remembering how certain theories relate to work has helped her to take a step back before making a decision. She has also taken full advantage of Watson Martin Partnership’s Virtual Learning Environment, an online learning resource available to all candidates.

    The VLE is really useful,” she says, “especially when you have a busy job, as it can be very time consuming searching for information on the CIPD website.  Having all the materials in one place means you save time searching and spend more time reading.”


Opening Up Opportunities

Centrica regularly receives a number of prestigious awards for its graduate training scheme and has made the Times top 100 Graduate Employers list for the last five years. With the CIPD Advanced Diploma now a prerequisite for the vast majority of senior HR and L&D roles, the qualification offers an extra incentive to attracting the best graduates on to the programme.

We are all aware of the Diploma’s importance in opening up opportunities in the future,” adds Emma, “and it was something I was looking for when applying for graduate programmes.”

In addition to its graduate training programme, Centrica offers a range of summer placements and insight days for undergraduates as well as schemes for apprenticeships and trainees.  Further details can be found at:  For further information about the CIPD Advanced Diploma and other qualifications offered by Watson Martin Partnership visit