Lessons learned from my OC placement year

30 June 2022

Newcastle University business student Alex Fox has just completed a year's placement at Opencast, including working for the company's corporate development team. He reflects on the lessons from the past 12 months.

‘We enable people’ is one of Opencast’s five core values and this has been very visible and great to learn about throughout the duration of my placement.

I have been inspired by the encouragement and support I’ve received from colleagues and wider teams. I have grown and excelled in many of my personal development goals, including delivering presentations and analysing data to inform key business decisions. I’ve received continual feedback which has helped me to re-shape the way I approach projects and communication and it has given me confidence for my return into my final year.

Before my arrival, I didn’t expect there to be much variety in the work I was given. To my surprise I was given opportunities to get involved in projects of all shapes and sizes, which has given me great insight into the different departments and complexities in the business.

I spent my first month working in the recruitment team. This was the perfect introduction to Opencast, working within a lovely group environment. The team is passionate about its work and always offered a helping hand and supported me with my day-to-day tasks.

Throughout the month I could see myself developing better time-management and communication skills. This was a great foundation for the work that followed.

Photo of three people - two men and one woman - at an office reception
Business student Alex Fox (centre) with Harry Armstrong and Lizzie Vincent of OC's corporate development team.

Corporate development

Corporate development focuses on driving sustainable growth. This involves expanding Opencast’s client base, de-risking the business through partnerships and commercial arrangements and providing people with challenging and rewarding work. This is the team I worked with for most of my placement, and it was a great learning experience.

My role mainly focused on conducting in depth research and data analysis into new industries and clients to inform the team’s go-to-market strategy. I also supported the team in finding new Government contract opportunities. Through attending supplier webinars and using a range of data analysis tools, which I quickly became familiar with, I research contract start/end dates, buying trends, opportunities requirements and the supplier landscape.

As part of the tendering process, I also supported the development of consultancy profiles to showcase the talent. Opencast allowed me to develop my knowledge and gain great insight into the different stages of the procurement process.

Alongside this, I also supported the research into the office expansion strategy led by the corporate development team. This involved looking at the cities we should expand into, and then finding the most suitable office options for leadership consideration. Opencast now has three new hub offices in Edinburgh, Leeds and London.

Culture at Opencast

Before arriving I watched a video of co-founder Mike O’Brien and could see how important culture was within the company. This excited me and still does.

The values, principles and care for the people makes Opencast stand out to me. Even at the scale it has reached over the past year, the culture has remained consistent throughout. Everyone I’ve met during my time has had a shared set of values and a very positive attitude towards work and learning.

Opencast has delivered on its promise of building trust and doing the right thing. In my time with the company, I’ve seen new projects being turned away when they see a mismatch in values.

One of my best experiences was working outside my comfort zone. This involved organising and chairing virtual sessions in front of up to 80 fellow Opencast employees.

I also worked with the head of learning and development on the roll-out of a mentoring programme. It was great to see the care that goes into personal growth and a good opportunity to enhance my presentation skills further.

After getting involved in one of the many work socials, myself and another intern were speaking about tech and decided it would be a good opportunity to see if we could get involved in some coding to widen our knowledge. We spoke to the head of software development and he liked the idea, finding time to teach us once a week.

Learning and reflecting

Throughout this year I have become more critical and independent in my thinking. With regular reflections and noting of experiences along the way, I have seen new ways of working which have enhanced my learning. This will help upon my return into my final year.

I was grateful when co-founder Charlie Hoult encouraged another intern and I to get involved in a project to support a local SME in developing its business operations. We conducted user research and developed a detailed report on systems, suggesting potential new solutions for it to consider implementing. This enhanced my understanding of the need to continually evolve to keep up with current trends and meet customer expectations.

I fully recommend Opencast as a great place for a placement. I learned so much and met great people along the way.

I’d recommend getting involved in the social activities, getting into the office as much as possible and saying hello to people you’ve not met before.

This opportunity allowed me to gain a better understanding of what I want to do after university and the approaches I will take towards my studies next year.

For me it was more the culture than the work that stood out. My experiences ignited my passion for business even further and I am very excited to enter the world of work following university. I feel much more prepared and confident going into it thanks to the range of experiences and people I’ve met at Opencast.