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University development programme wins praise from top businesses

The University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan) leadership and career development programme, LaunchPad, is designed to provide talented students with enhanced opportunities for work experience, business mentoring and networking. Each year around 20 high-achieving second year students are accepted onto the prestigious programme and establish a valuable link with the business world. 

It’s no secret that the LaunchPad programme has helped carve successful futures for its graduates, but the benefits it’s delivering to businesses in the region are tangible, too. 

Global media agency, MediaCom, has taken on three LaunchPad graduates in the past 12 months. Laura McGowan, MediaCom’s HR director said: “We have an excellent relationship with UCLan and the LaunchPad programme, which has always provided us with excellent candidates. We’ve been so impressed by the quality of graduates that if a graduate role comes up I contact UCLan directly, and we’ve hired almost every candidate the University has put forward to date in roles from broadcast through to planning.

“LaunchPad generates the relevant skillsets and we’ve found graduates of the programme to be driven with relevant experience and the right outlook. They are commercially minded, have good business acumen and a real ‘get up and go’ attitude. This fits with our culture and business model and is helping us to grow.”

Lucinda Millar of recruitment specialist Hays agrees. Hays has taken on 2014 LaunchPad graduate Natasha Illingworth as an associate consultant recruiting for finance. 

“We often find that some graduates are lacking in business acumen because in lots of cases, students don’t have any real experience of business,” says Lucinda, who manages the finance recruitment team at Hays. “That isn’t the case with Natasha. Her experiences through the LaunchPad programme, such as taking a business trip to Hong Kong, really made her stand out.

“Natasha brings so much to the business, she’s full of ideas, is confident and has lots to say, which is exactly what we want. 

“Our recruitment process is four stages and involves different assessments but Natasha shone, no doubt helped by the mentoring she gained through LaunchPad. We had between 10 and 15 other applicants but none came close to Natasha, she’s a brilliant addition to our team.”

Jeanette Carr, international trade manager for Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, also has good things to say about the LaunchPad programme. “The Chamber is passionate about supporting UCLan and LaunchPad, which is an excellent way to help fill the skills gap,” Jeanette says. “The trip to Hong Kong is a good way for students to experience business on an international level and I’ve suggested the Chamber could set the students a task for their next trip, which I think would really be of benefit to them.”

North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust is another organisation working with UCLan. Its assistant management accountant, Samuel Sunter is a graduate of the programme and has experienced the benefits of LaunchPad from both sides of the fence. He says: “LaunchPad gave me confidence and encouraged me to make the most out of my University experience and move out of my comfort zone. I’ve no doubt that it’s helped me with my career.

“Now I can see it from a business perspective too. The programme is totally different from anything else and it produces a unique set of graduates. I’ve been involved with assessing this year’s intake of LaunchPad students and I’ve really enjoyed experiencing things from the other side.”

Francesca Walker, Senior Lecturer (Employability Lead) and LaunchPad Lead, said: “The LaunchPad programme is made up of some of our most talented students who are striving to be the leaders of the future, and the programme helps students to take the skills they learn during their studies and develop them in a real, professional environment. We know this gives LaunchPad students a real competitive edge but it’s great to have this re-affirmed by so many influential people across different industries.

“The LaunchPad journey takes students further than they had imagined and it’s fantastic to see that this is something which extends into their professional careers and is recognised by their employers.”