We’re celebrating our apprentices
Mary-Laure Readman left school in Belgium without any qualifications. How did she end up in Newcastle studying a Level 3 apprenticeship in Management?
“My parents decided to leave Belgium and travel around Europe when I was 15,” Mary tells us when we sat down for a chat. “I tried to go back to school but it didn’t really work, because I was between two countries all the time. It was a bit difficult,” she adds, with classic understatement.
Mary is 20 years old and currently managing the Netherlands team at Utilitywise’s HQ in Newcastle. Travelling with her parents, the family lived in Spain for a year before it became clear that the economy wasn’t going to provide them with the opportunities they needed. They moved to the UK to find work and never looked back.
Now, going back to school is no longer an option. “Going back means being dependent on somebody again, and I don’t want that. I have a mortgage, I’m married now – a work-based qualification is ideal for me.”
We sat down and spoke to Mary about her apprenticeship and her life at Utilitywise.
How did you end up in your current role at Utilitywise?
I joined Utilitywise just over a year ago. I was originally an energy consultant on the Belgium team and the only Flemish one. After a few months, the team manager position on the Dutch team became available. I applied together with three other people, and I got the job! I thought that would never be possible.
What do you like best about working at Utilitywise?
The support and help I get from my management. I think that even when you fail – and obviously you try not to fail too much, but even when you do (because you’re only human) – they still pick you up and give you the help you need. Sometimes in businesses, people don’t succeed immediately and then they don’t get the help they need. I don’t believe in that way of working because I think it wastes a lot of potential. I’ve been a team manager for seven months and last month I reached my target for the first time. Finally! And I think it’s because of the help and support I got from my management and the people I work with.
I also like that we get to hear about the strategy and direction of the company from the leadership team. I like that they have ambitious plans. That’s important as well I think, that you feel good in a company.
What’s the atmosphere like?
Sometimes it’s stressful, especially at the end of the month, but there is still time for a laugh and a joke.
What do you like the most about your role?
Well, I’m still a salesperson. What I like the most is when we close deals, because sometimes I close deals myself. I like all the different aspects of my job, but when we close deals, when we bring in money, when we hit the target, when my ECs hit their targets, I think that for me … that’s everything. I get a bit of a buzz from closing a deal. I can’t describe the feeling I get, how happy I am when we close a deal, especially if it’s a big one. Even with small ones I think oh well done, it’s another customer. That feeling, you never get anywhere else.
The Partner Channel is quite interesting, as it’s involves making first contact with smart metering companies who can provide extra services. Obviously in the UK side of the business those services are already in place, but in Europe we’re still building these services for customers. So I’m trying to make those first contacts, trying to find those companies that can help our clients, and just get our name out there.
How did you end up studying for your apprenticeship?
I was offered the opportunity, which was great. I wanted to get my first qualification in England, that’s very important to me. I have something to prove, and it’s a brilliant chance to get a qualification in the job I do.
How long have you been doing it?
I just started, I’ve had my first appointments and assignments. It takes 18 months to complete. I’m studying a lot of different subjects and picked from a long list of modules.
Where would you like to be in five years?
I’d like to be the head of the Netherlands at Utilitywise. The way I see it, the Netherlands is a small team now, but when I started with the company there were three energy consultants and now we have, so we’ve basically doubled the size of the team in a few months, which is good. I want to be the operations manager of the Netherlands team and the Partner Channel, looking after supplier relationships.
Do you think the apprenticeship will help you get there?
Yes, I really do. Utilitywise has provided me with amazing opportunities over the past eighteen months. You don’t often get these opportunities at work, especially if you come from another country and your language isn’t perfect and you don’t have any qualifications! I think it’s a great company.
You’ve been really affected by big, global events like the Great Recession.
Yes, and I think that’s why now I would like to stay at Utilitywise for a long time. Now I’m married here, I have my job with a good company, some friends. I want to stay where I am, I don’t want to move anymore. I’ve had enough adventure for the rest of my life.
You actually work here with your step-father, don’t you?
Yes, he’s one of my energy consultants!
How did that happen?
Well, he was looking for a job in England and he’s always worked in construction, but he kept talking about trying sales. I thought he could be good at it because he’s very spontaneous and personable, but he’d never worked with computers before!
I told Sam, my ops manager, that my step-father was interested and Sam suggested inviting him for an interview. Sam did the interview, because with it being family there needed to be some distance in the application process, I couldn’t get involved. The interview went well and he got the job!
Did you think it would be difficult to manage a family member?
I think it’s quite easy, really. I didn’t know if it would be a challenge for me; at home I’m the daughter and here sometimes I have to tell him what to do! But we have rules – I think you have to set rules for something like that, when you’re working with friends and family. We talked about it explicitly before we started working together. He said, “I’ll have a boss anywhere I work and I would rather it be you.”
Is he proud of you and what you’ve achieved so far at Utilitywise?
I hope so!