Is the pathway from education to business working well enough?

Education | Employment & Skills | National

Do graduates leave further education ready for work? Are company expectations too high? What can be done to enhance relations between business and education? BLM investigates.

How can businesses best integrate college/university leavers and apprentices into their business?

Ana Bakshi, Director of Saïd Business School’s Oxford Foundry, Oxford University’s entrepreneurship centre, said: “Through collaborative partnerships, and engaging early with student societies and student groups.

“The Foundry is led by a Student Advisory Board and entrepreneurial Advisory Board, which includes world-leading entrepreneurs such as Reid Hoffman CBE, Co-founder of LinkedIn and Biz Stone, Co-founder of Twitter, and our Academic Steering Committee which includes academic Heads of Division and innovation leads from across the University and Oxford colleges.

“Businesses are able to engage with our multi-disciplinary community of students and share invaluable knowledge and expertise. They also have access to talent pools, creativity and ideas and building entrepreneurial mindsets.”

Dave Crew, Head of Growth and Employer Partnership at Weston College, said: “Having a talent strategy is important for all businesses, especially in a time of record low levels of unemployment, creating a candidate-driven market. A talent strategy is an essential part of business growth plans and the simple answer is engagement with education providers.

“There are plenty of opportunities to integrate college/university leavers into a business but it all starts with a conversation. At Weston College, we’ve seen employers offer placements to students, integrate them into their teams, and offer apprenticeships when learners finish their course; an example being digital technology students who progress from an industry placement alongside their course, to a degree-level apprenticeship with Weston College, with training funded by the apprenticeship levy providing an incredible return on investment for employers.

“It’s also important that businesses take opportunities to raise the profile of their business within the student population, so they’re seen as an employer of choice.Guest lectures are a simple way to begin a relationship.”

Dr Francine Morris, Associate Dean for Enterprise and Engagement at the University of Salford Business School, said: “Businesses that understand the transition from education to the labour market tend to have more success integrating leavers into the workplace.

“One way of improving the transition is to visit your local university or college to get a feel for what students are learning and how they are being assessed. This can be a scary time for graduates, so being as open and inclusive as possible is key.

“Evidence shows that many employees leave an organisation during induction, which is very costly to business.

“If you don’t have a specific graduate training programme you could embed some informal social time into your induction/onboarding process to encourage new appointees to ask questions or seek support. In addition, setting up a good mentor or buddy system can be of huge benefit.”

How do you ensure education leavers have the skills needed for the world of business?

Crew: “We have placed an emphasis on recruiting staff from industry, with many of our lecturers still running their own business, and each member of staff spends time with employers as part of our professional development programme.

Dave Crew, Weston College.
Dave Crew, Weston College.

“There is a strong focus not only on teaching technical skills, but also wider business skills such as communication, digital skills and teamwork. Employers regularly visit classrooms to talk about the reality of life in business and expectations of graduates.

“In addition, our course content is designed around the needs of industry and we’ve created the best training facilities in the region, working side by side with business every step of the way.”

Morris: “We understand that we are in the middle of a revolution, Industry 4.0, where automation and artificial intelligence is becoming the norm and where the nature of work is changing rapidly. At Salford Business School we are committed to ensuring that our graduates are equipped with the necessary skills, not only digital, but resilience, agility and creative problem-solving skills, to rise to these challenges.

Francine Morris, University of Salford.
Dr Francine Morris, University of Salford.

“Working closely with employers as a key part of our curriculum and assessment development helps us create relevant, engaging and exciting programmes. A recent example is our collaboration with FinTech employers in the Greater Manchester region, which helped us understand our critical role in the supply of local, work-ready graduates.”

Bakshi: “We do this through the Oxford Foundry’s five-step model of learning: Peer-to-peer – creating an environment for knowledge exchange between students and alumni; The Zone of Proximal Development – the theory that learning is most effective from people a couple of steps ahead on their journey; Through facilitators and our broad network of established industry experts and talented mentors; Experts in residence and a strong network of academic champions; Inspirational speakers.

“This focuses on creating an entrepreneurial mindset, plus critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving skills, tech skills and using tech for good, and the capability to innovate. “This reflects on the changing skill sets needed for our future leaders, employees and entrepreneurs to succeed in the wake of accelerating technology development and globalisation.”

Can you tell us about a successful partnership you have established with a business, and its impact?

Crew: “Weston College works with over 2,000 businesses of various size in all industry sectors, regionally and nationally.

“There are so many examples of successful partnerships, and the word partnership is so important, as creating a bespoke programme for a business does require both parties to invest time, and understand culture and ethos, and what we’re trying to achieve. One example is our partnership with Thatchers Cider who created a Young Talent Programme reaching thousands of young people in schools to raise awareness of careers at Thatchers.

“This included the creation of a bespoke business apprenticeship programme with Weston College that won regional and national awards in the past two years. If both parties invest the time to build that relationship, the results can not only see incredible business benefits but also change lives.”

Bakshi: “We work at the intersection of industry, academia and student talent. We leverage on Oxford’s research, innovation and talent and look at commercial and market needs and gaps to identify and solve some of society’s biggest problems.

Ana Bakshi, Saïd Business School.
Ana Bakshi, Saïd Business School.

“It’s important students are exposed to real societal and commercial challenges. To this end, we run an AI Impact Weekend in collaboration with EY. The AI Impact Weekend brings together 100 students from all divisions and colleges to work together to solve a challenge. In 2020 it will be about how AI can be used to tackle climate change.

“This challenge was chosen by our student thought-leadership roundtable and we know there’s potential for big impact here.”

Morris: “Our partnership with Salford Red Devils is a great example of the variety of activities that can be achieved through industry collaboration. Salford Business School worked with the Red Devils to develop the Fan Fit app, which contains club information, social media feeds, step counting and running data. The project brought digital innovation to the club, helping engage fans and foster a healthier lifestyle within our local community.

“We see these activities as crucial for meeting our commitments as a civic university and we are excited that Glasgow Rangers Football Club have recently signed up to be a partner of Fan Fit.

As part of the relationship, Salford Business School has been offering a range of places on our degree courses, which is absolutely critical to the development of players and their potential transition at the end of their playing careers. In turn the Red Devils have provided work placements for our students, research and MBA projects, and for our Sports Business students they have supported numerous field trips and special guest lectures.”

Martin Horne, Head of Department – Heavy Vehicle, City of Bristol College, said: “City of Bristol College has worked with DAF Trucks UK’s national apprenticeship programme for the past 20 years. Over this time, the business has grown into a large employer and provider, whose dealer network enrolled more than 120 new apprentices to the programme this year with a further 200 already enrolled in years two and three.

Martin Horne, City of Bristol College.
Martin Horne, City of Bristol College.

“The apprenticeship programme has been developed with DAF to ensure the apprentices understand the branded and professional aspects of the dealer network and DAF Trucks UK. DAF, the leading transport and logistics company in the UK with more than 30% of the market, has its company values and expectations embedded into the programme along with values of City of Bristol College.

City of Bristol College not only works with DAF Trucks UK but also with Skillnet to create the training programme which ensures that it fulfils the needs of the apprentices and the employers. Apprentices who complete the DAF programme at the college’s specialist motor vehicle technology centre at Parkway have, for the most part, stayed on with the trucks manufacturer and the dealer network and a number of apprentices now either work for DAF or in senior positions within the DAF dealer network.

“The programme is consistently in the top 100 apprentice employers.”

Amy Creech, Lecturer – FdA Creative Arts Therapy, City of Bristol College, said: “City of Bristol College has developed a partnership between University of Bristol Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the FdA in Creative Arts Therapy Studies.

“The main aim for the students has been to integrate teaching with ‘real world’ experience. Students were already doing placements, but there can be a disconnect between learning, placements and focused learning activities. The jump to running their own projects when they leave, either within an organisation or as a freelancer, felt very big for some students.

Amy Creech, City of Bristol College.
Amy Creech, City of Bristol College.

“So this year, the students have worked with their tutor and staff from the hospital trust to develop a residency at South Bristol Community Hospital. They are planning and delivering creative activities for patients in hospital. They are working with rehabilitation wards, with many patients having experienced a stroke, or a fall which requires an extended hospital stay.

“A range of professionals on the wards, from nurses to occupational therapists to the chaplain have spent time with the students helping them develop the relevant skills to support the patients. As the tutor I have supported and overseen the students as they plan, deliver and reflect on each activity.

“I have seen students growing confidence and professionalism as they learn to navigate a hospital environment. They make more sense of the material we have been teaching, and, perhaps most significantly, seem to be thinking more clearly about the work they will be able to do after they graduate. The hospital staff are very positive about the impact of the work, with students able to give so much time to each individual patient without the busy demands of the usual hospital routines.”

What more could business leaders do to support education providers?

Morris: “Be proactive. Engage in as many ways as you can with your local business school.

“For example, business schools can help you capitalise on your training levy through the delivery of a range of degree apprenticeships for your employees. They can also supply student placements at all levels that will bring the most up-to-date management thinking on a wide range of projects. Working on higher-level KTPs with academics and highly qualified graduates has the potential to improve your business productivity, effectiveness and efficiency.

“In addition, working with a business school provides access to their networks which can open the way to new business opportunities. In return the schools will benefit from your support as guest lecturers, volunteering on industry advisory boards, collaboration on new programmes and live projects. Most importantly your business can provide students with invaluable industry experience and career capital.”

Bakshi: “Businesses could build new collaborations with Higher Education. This would focus on innovating and building solutions to some of the most pressing challenges we face in society today, together, whether that be in healthcare, education, or climate change.

“Beyond skills and training, we are witnessing a growing trend in students and education leavers starting up their own businesses. At the Oxford Foundry alone we have accelerated more than 19 ventures who have gone on to raise £8m in investment and create over 70 jobs in less than 20 months.

“Students increasingly want to work for themselves and grow ventures, so business leaders need to evolve with this trend and find new ways to attract talent and show best practices in diversity, inclusion and creating the environments and culture students are looking for.”

Crew: “It’s a simple answer and that is engaging with education providers. Like any business partnership, building trusted relationships is key.

“Further education colleges like Weston have so much to offer businesses, and collectively across the South West of England alone, there are thousands of students that will move into the workforce with technical skills. That is the future workforce. However, it’s important that education providers listen to business leaders and embrace their input.

“The business benefits are fantastic for employers. From accessing free recruitment services, offering student placements, to students delivering live business projects as part of their courses, apprenticeships and upskilling existing staff, the opportunities are endless but always start with a conversation.”

An employer’s perspective

Steve Preston is Managing Director of Heat Recruitment, a specialist recruitment consultancy operating in financial services, legal, IT, insurance and engineering.

Steve Preston, Heat Recruitment.
Steve Preston, Heat Recruitment.

He spoke to Business Leader about how further education providers can ensure graduates are work-place ready when they enter the jobs market.

What could colleges and universities do differently?

Although universities and colleges have great career hub functions, it would be good to see graduates better prepared for the working world. This would start with realistic salary expectations for roles and regions. Many recruitment agencies, including us, offer up-to-date yearly salary surveys for free. These can be used to educate and prepare the candidates for their next step.

Practical skills are also useful; skills such as CV and application writing. It can take a few months to get your first job after university. A better-prepared candidate pool would help.

Universities and colleges should also work closely with recruitment agencies. We are always seeking top-tier, graduate talent, and this can help build pipelines and encourage graduates into employment faster.

Do you use apprentices?

We do hire apprentices. They typically come in on an entry-level resource role, overseen by team managers. All apprentices are given on-the-job training and support to enable them to grow into the role gradually – the last thing we want is to overwhelm them.

Due to our effective training and positive culture we see many progress into senior or even consultant roles. Apprenticeships are a positive talent source for us.

Do graduates have the skills you require?

All newcomers require a fair amount of training to get them up to speed. This is simply because they haven’t worked in the industry. Recruitment has many different elements; once we break these down and teach them, and it is then down to the candidate to execute them effectively.

Graduates certainly have the aptitude and mental ability to do the job at hand, and so long as they have the motivation and drive, they can absolutely succeed.

Have you run any initiatives with education providers to help bring trained recruits into your business? 

We have partnered with a variety of schools, universities and colleges to boost awareness around a career in recruitment. We have hosted business days, talks about the industry and Q&A sessions to educate young people on the career benefits on offer.

When you consider the recruitment sector is worth almost £36bn a year, the earning potential really is huge, and the key is making young talent aware of this. Our biggest lesson though, is that resilience and drive will get you far in a career in recruitment.

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