Bournemouth Student Thrives During Placement Opportunity at Unicard
A university placement can be a valuable opportunity to gain practical experience in the workplace alongside a degree. Claudia Emby, a Bournemouth University undergraduate, is halfway through her placement year with Unicard, a provider of smart ticketing and payment solutions to the public transport sector, headquartered in Ferndown.
Unicard’s technology powers smart card and ticketing schemes for Local Authorities, bus and other transport operators. For nearly 20 years, Unicard’s technology has been used by millions of passengers to get them where they need to be. It processes over half a billion smart transactions every year and supports 2.5 million smart cardholders across the UK. Claudia is the first placement student Unicard has taken on. Claudia grabbed the opportunity and she’s paving the way for future placements.
Silicon South spoke to Claudia recently to find out more about her role as ‘Business Coordinator’ and her experience of working for an innovative technology company.
“I began working at Unicard last October. As a Business Studies student, I wanted a placement which would allow me to experience a variety of roles with meaningful responsibilities and deliverables across the business. From the very beginning, I was given the opportunity to define my role and my objectives. So far, besides other projects I’ve been involved in, I have actively driven a few digital initiatives to support the company’s growth strategy. I have helped deliver Microsoft Dynamics as the company’s new CRM system and have played a leading role in delivering the new website. I’m also responsible for managing the Unicard LinkedIn page. The various projects have enabled me to learn a lot about the business, the various functions, and the broader public transport sector. It’s been an incredible experience so far and I’m very pleased that Unicard has shown so much faith in me”.
We asked Claudia about her reasons for applying for the placement, and what advice she has for other undergraduates looking for work experience.
“One of the reasons I chose to study at Bournemouth University was the mandatory placement year. I wanted to gain some valuable experience before I graduated. However, the pandemic really added to the challenge of finding a job and I had to change my approach a number of times. After several months of applying and interviewing for jobs that didn’t really feel right for me, I started sending out my CV to local businesses. A contact that I found listed on Sustainable Dorset offered to forward my message to a few members of his network. A week later, I had a call from Sean Dickinson, CEO of Unicard. He asked me to research the company and to come up with a list of personal objectives for my placement year. After a few informal discussions, he offered me a job. No psychometric tests, no personality tests, no data analysis presentations needed. Compared to every other interview process I had been through; it was a breath of fresh air. At the time, it was all quite surreal. Especially because, prior to Sean’s first phone call, I wasn’t really aware of the scale and importance of the ‘Transport Ticketing industry’”.
“My advice to other students searching for work placements is to be proactive and identify the companies that you want to work with. It’s a much more empowering and satisfying experience. There’s no harm in reaching out to companies, even if they’re not advertising. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Don’t underestimate the power of networking. Platforms such as Sustainable Dorset and Silicon South are great places to discover local organisations. Also, be open-minded about where you apply. There are lots of professions and industries you may not have considered that can teach you valuable skills. If you remain motivated and proactive, you could end up with a role like mine where you can define your own responsibilities, rather than being molded to suit a position you might not be comfortable with”.
“Due to the impact of the pandemic, the university has made the placement year optional. I would encourage any student to use the ‘option’ as a last resort. Do everything you can to secure a placement that is going to give you the experience you need for life after uni. You won’t regret it. Fortunately, Unicard is looking to create better links with Bournemouth and other local Universities. So, while I may be the first placement student to work here, I certainly won’t be the last”.
We asked Claudia what she has gained from her experience at Unicard and what her goals are for the future.
“My experience has been really positive. Unicard is a growing business and during the time I’ve been here, lots of new people have come on board. It’s so rewarding to be part of a company that is still thriving despite the current global situation. I am so grateful to have been given such a versatile role and to be involved in a variety of interesting projects across Unicard. Every day brings something new, which is what I love about the role. It has given me a great deal of confidence and has taught me to be more vocal and make my presence felt, knowing that I have the full support of my colleagues. It has inspired me to continue working in a professional environment where I can take on new challenges”.
Would she consider staying in the area?
“Absolutely. I think the Bournemouth, Christchurch, Poole area is a great place to live. The beach, the Jurassic Coast and the New Forest are all reasons I chose to study here. Growing up in the countryside, I never saw myself living in a big city, so for me, the area has the perfect balance of urban and rural. I’m not sure where my career will take me when I leave university, but my experience at Unicard has shown me that you don’t need to go far to find great businesses operating on a national scale”