My B&FC: Oliver Canham

Oliver Canham had a promising career in telesales but there was just one problem – he wasn’t enjoying it… 

"I knew it wasn’t for me and I thought I need to pursue something I’m actually passionate about, that I’m going to love doing for the next 20 years…"

The ‘something’ turned out to be hospitality, which Oliver had quite a bit of experience in already.

Keen to do a degree but not having the level 3 qualification he needed, he opted for B&FC’s Fast Track to Degree in Tourism – a full level 3 course condensed into just 20 weeks.

"It was tough at first, but the support from the tutors was brilliant. The workload is quite heavy but it’s definitely worth it; you just need to build a routine. And it got me ready to start my degree course, which I love."

Oliver is keen to do a masters eventually and work for a cruise line. In the meantime, his role as Head Hall Porter at Blackpool’s Hotel Sheraton is linking up with his degree to give him the all-round skills he needs.

"The fast-track course was actually developed with industry (with the people and companies I’ll be applying to work for), which is really good, because they know you’re gaining that relevant experience."

Oliver later took on the Foundation Degree in Tourism Management. Here's his story...

My B&FC: Oliver Canham

After school I went straight into work – I was a plasterer (14 to 17) then I re-did my GCSEs and went on to start A Levels - which weren’t for me, so I worked in telesales for 6 months then the compliance department for the next two and a half years.

After that my girlfriend and I went to Australia and spent a year there. I worked for a door-to-door sales company that did gas and electric – an industry I knew a lot about – but this time rather than everything being over the phone it was in person.

I did that for three months, and saved up enough money to buy myself a camper van - then toured around – it was ace!

I came back home and after working for a while I took on the fast-track to a degree course with B&FC.

I was just Googling 'fast tracks to university' because I knew I didn’t have my full A Levels or a full Level 3 qualification.

I started that in January. I would have been able to do the degree using my industrial experience but because it had been so long since I’d been in education I wasn’t used to writing reports in that kind of style, the referencing, the structure and everything.

I just wanted to get myself back into the swing of things and because I hadn’t got the Level 3, the funding was available for that – I didn’t have to pay for it myself so I thought if I start it now I’ll finish it in June and it gets me ready to start – it was basically free.

And that really got me ready to start my degree in September of that year – 2018. It went really really well.

I get my full student loan - and the fees here are cheaper than anywhere else in the country.

The accommodation was quite appealing – I live just a few streets away. I’m in a house share at the moment – there’s only a couple of us living there, which is ace.

I’m working at one of the big hotels on Blackpool promenade – it’s one of the best up and coming hotels.

I’m head hall porter in charge of all the luggage, greeting guests off the coaches, waving them goodbye when they leave, ensuring that all of the hall areas are tidy throughout the hotel and generally just helping out on reception if they’re short. I’m the man around the hotel for everything. I love it.

I love the course – the teachers are amazing; they’ve got so much time for you here.

Paulina is my favourite teacher – she’s just got her Doctorate and her knowledge is unquestionable – it’s there.

You can ask her a question on any area of tourism and she’s got a wealth of knowledge on it.

Back to fast-track…

It was tough at first, the first few weeks were quite tough, like I say, getting used to that structure but once I’d got everything organised, and I’d got a load of templates made, which my course leader really helped me with, everything was quite straightforward and again, the support from the tutors was brilliant.

For the first three months of it I wasn’t working because I wanted to focus and because the workload is really heavy, because essentially it’s a 2-year course squeezed into a 16-week period, so you’ve got around two assignments a week to complete of 2,000 words. The workload is quite heavy – but it’s definitely worth it.

You just need to build a routine - I built a very, very structured military-style routine. Going to sleep at the same time, getting up at the same time, setting specific hours to one side for doing the work – be really disciplined with it.

It’s quite intensive.

Higher education…

I took myself out of work for the first 2 or 3 months so I could really focus and get ahead of the game. 

The fast-track course was actually developed with industry leaders so the leader of the cruise industry, hospitality, restaurant, events – they all came together and they created the modules so the cruise industry can look at what grade you got for that individual module, which they will probably look at a little bit more than the overall grade that you’ve got.

So it’s really really good I think because it’s been built by the people and the companies that you’re going to be apply to work for.

The companies – they know that you’re gaining that relevant experience because they’ve put the processes in place and they’ve put the plan in place for it.

You can take five years out between doing your top-up year and graduating.

I was thinking of taking another year out, doing that and getting on the property ladder as well at the same time because it’s quite tough to get a mortgage as a full-time student.

Also I was thinking of doing the top-up and then going on to do a masters and I’ve also spoke to Ian about graduate schemes – he’s got a friend who works for a cruise line that offer a graduate scheme so they’re going to try and get me involved with that.

My dream job is to be the head concierge on a cruise line.

Advice to others?

Prepare for it. Know that the workload is going to be probably the heaviest that you’ve ever known (in work or college or anything like that) and that you’re going to have to set some time aside for it - 20 hours a week at least.

The support’s brilliant. Go for it!