It was the academic speed dating exercise that first introduced Christopher Mourant to the business.

The meet and greet session, organised by Highlands College as part of the Financial Services degree course, is designed to match students with potential employers through an informal interview process. Local businesses take part with the aim of offering work placements to those students that they feel are the best fit for their business.

During the speed dating exercise, Christopher’s CV and personality stood out and he was selected to undertake a 28 week work placement with the Fairway Group over a two year period.

This novel approach to matching student to workplace is an integral part of the degree syllabus and one that Louise Bracken Smith, managing director of the Fairway Group and director of Bracken Rothwell, thinks is an excellent way of sourcing and recruiting home-grown talent.

She said: “By maintaining close links with the College and the degree courses they offer, we can look to employ ambitious, dynamic, self- starters who can apply and embed what they have learnt in the classroom to the office.”

To date, two graduates from the degree courses have been offered full time positions and there are currently two further students in house on work experience placements.

Scott Conneely, who is now employed as a trainee accountant with Bracken Rothwell, the Fairway Group’s connected chartered accountancy practice, said his work placement fitted hand in hand with his studies.

“I assisted the Fairway Trust team with a significant transfer of a United Arab Emirates business and helped the bookkeeping and accounts preparation team, which gave me a valuable insight into their work and really helped with my studies in offshore administration and accountancy.

“My experience at Fairway allowed me to diversify my knowledge within the finance industry and gain further insight into trust and company administration with bookkeeping and accounts preparation.  I achieved two work placements during my course and kept in close contact with the Group before furthering my studies at Plymouth University.”

Louise said: “Both Christopher Mourant and Scott Conneely are great ambassadors for Highlands College and have fitted into the workplace with ease. Their transferable skills such as team work, communication, customer service and general business etiquette have been implemented into the office and they are both extremely valued employees.”

The range of business and finance foundation and honours degree programs on offer at Highlands College are affiliated with Plymouth University and according to Innes MacLagan, the university centre manager, the courses are generally well supported by the local finance industry.

He said: “Work based learning is integral and it is at the heart of the degree program. The practical paid work experience is designed to enhance CVs as well as placing students ahead of their peers in terms of professional network, relevant experience and employability skills.”

Laura Batho and Daniel Harrison are currently undertaking work placements with the Group as part of their course syllabus. Laura is studying for a foundation degree in Business and Management and Daniel is enrolled on the FdA in Financial Services. They both intend to take a top up year once their courses have finished so that they graduate with a BA (Hons) Degree.

During Laura’s work placement she has been supporting the admin team with a number of tasks and says she finds it really interesting putting into practice what she has learnt at college.

“It is particularly interesting to see a set of final accounts as we are studying accounting at college and preparing parts of accounts in a very different format to how they are prepared here.”

Any student embarking on a work placement with the Group is given access to a business mentor and work buddy to help answer their questions and basically offer support.

Laura said: “This initiative has really helped me along the way and both my mentor and buddy are extremely approachable. Everyone is happy to help if I have any questions and I now know that Trust is definitely an area I would like to go into in the future.”

Daniel Harrison’s work placement journey is also starting to shape his career decisions.

He said: “After just a few weeks of work experience I began to realise that Trust work was a path that I would like to follow in the future.

“The work placement scheme is one of the main reasons I chose to do the course as it gives me an idea of what working in the finance industry will be like. It allows me to gain vast work experience and prepares me for my chosen career.”

It is comments like this that validate the importance of learning on the job and helping to ease the transition of a student’s full time education to the world of work.

Both businesses are certainly riding a growth wave and expanding rapidly so recruiting the right candidate is therefore high on the business agenda.

Alistair Rothwell, managing director of Bracken Rothwell said that supporting the college is a win win situation.

“The students emerge as highly employable graduates with an impressive skills base that have been partly shaped by the intensive work placements.

He said: “Embracing local graduate talent is a fantastic way of ensuring a sustainable work force and it is something that we aim to continue investing in.” 


If you’re looking for a career in trust and company administration or accountancy then please contact our HR Manager, Barbara Partyka on (01534) 511797. We currently have a number of positions to fill.

From classroom to office - how employing home-grown talent is working for Bracken Rothwell and the Fairway Group