Final year students are heading back to university for the last time and many are now looking at the training programmes that could help them start their careers once degree studies are over. Chemical sciences graduate, Jack Raven, is half way through EDF Energy’s graduate scheme and is wrapping up his second placement, a hands-on role at the heart of the company’s innovation accelerator, Blue Lab. Here he reflects on the opportunities this has opened to him.
I studied Chemistry at Sheffield and when I started on my final year I wasn’t entirely sure what my next steps would be. Immediately after graduation I worked in the chemical industry, but a few years later, when I found out about the EDF Energy Commercial Graduate Scheme, I saw a great opportunity for me to gain an introduction to the energy industry, with the chance to move to a more commercially focused role.
I joined in September 2017 and my first, of four, six-month placements was in Business Change and IT, learning about digital project change and supporting a number of programmes.
My first steps in innovation
I was excited to make the move from Crawley, in north Sussex, to Hove, on the Sussex Coast, for my second placement with Blue Lab as I thought a role in innovation would give me a good understanding of the changing nature of the energy sector, along with a glimpse of future opportunities for the company.
Being on the grad scheme usually means you are always the newbie – you turn up on a placement and join a well-established team. However, the fast-paced world of innovation requires a different way of working so Blue Lab works with a lot of specialists, alongside staff on secondment from departments across the company, who can then take innovative thinking and new ways of working back to their business units. That meant I didn’t feel like ‘the new guy’ when I joined Blue Lab. It seemed like I was given more responsibility as soon as I joined and was valued for the input I could give on specific projects.
Agile working to move innovation forwards
I certainly wasn’t able to have a standing start either, being thrust straight into preparations for a company-wide health and well-being innovation challenge pitch day. I joined Blue Lab just over a month before the big event, so had to quickly get up to speed with all the ideas that had been collected and who the challenge innovators were.
This was a real eye-opener for me as, from day one, I was speaking to people all around the company, helping them develop their ideas and prepare for their pitches. It gave me an understanding of the power of Blue Lab and how it reaches right across business units, alongside everything I was learning about innovation.
A lot of the work Blue Lab does is aimed directly at customers, developing ideas and products to make energy better for the external world. However, the company also innovates internally, to improve the way we do things, which ultimately also helps our customers too.
With internal challenges we crowd source ideas, and that crowd of people also helps refine and develop some innovations in their infancy. I saw really quickly how an idea that was unlikely to succeed or be developed could be pivoted completely, based on comments and recommendations from our wider community of innovators, to build fantastic concepts that could have a hugely positive impact on the company. This way of working is a huge asset as it can streamline the development process, saving time and money.
Mum knows best
One challenge I worked on gave my mum the chance to be an EDF Energy star. We tested the concept of a customer community creating short films to help other customers with frequently asked questions relating to energy. My mum was the first customer we filmed as she explained some of the pain points in reading a bill to help other people gain an understanding of their energy use and related charges. This idea has been put on hold for now but she may become an internet star if the project is rolled out at some stage in the future.
Another challenge I worked on gave me the opportunity to hear the voice of our front-line staff, the customer service agents, who have the very best understanding of what we can do to improve the service we offer customers. Engaging with teams like this can give you the fastest way to deliver change from a simple idea to a full scale innovation and can really help keep the business agile.
I’ve also had the chance to lead and manage projects, with a car-pooling platform probably the biggest of these. This has been such a rewarding opportunity as I have had all the responsibility and trust to conduct something under my own steam to deliver some innovation. My Blue Lab team have trusted me to run a real project and understand real business pressures, which can be a rare opportunity for a grad, so this has been a fantastic opportunity. I have been able to use my ‘presenting with confidence’ training and my ‘stakeholder management’ training on this project, both of which form part of the graduate programme. I have also been able to work with the company’s CFO, Rob Guyler, who has provided support and direction on the project. Having such a senior sponsor shows the company is really committed to innovation.
In control on my power station visit
My learning has not just been limited to the projects I have been directly working on. For example, I had the chance to visit one of EDF Energy’s coal-fired power stations to see the generation business first hand. This was an inspiring opportunity and one I was really grateful to be given the time for. I saw the operations team at Cottam in action, alongside routine maintenance. The visit helped give me context and understanding of where our electricity comes from. It also gave me the chance to talk about innovation with my hosts at the power station, who are now keen to visit Blue Lab themselves.
A champion for innovation
As I will be soon be moving onto my next placement, in the Customer Service side of Customer Operations, I plan to take the skills I have picked up in this placement to try new ways of working in the rest of the business.
I want to be a true champion for innovation and to utilise everything I have learnt to encourage more people to be innovators.
Who we are
Jack Raven is a Commercial Graduate close to the end of his placement in EDF Energy's Blue Lab. Blue Lab is working to grow and nurture business ideas with start-ups, our colleagues, students and innovators who are passionate about their concepts. Our innovation platform encourages collaboration, acceleration and disruption. Innovation can be external or it can be internal. Any idea can flourish with the right support.