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People | Aug 16

How SMEs can access the wealth of talent in business schools

People | Aug 16

Universities are untapped talent generators. Utilising the talent from their business schools is a lot easier than you might assume.

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Business schools are places of learning, free-flowing thought, and new ideas. The students that attend them have the ability to process, retain, and develop new information at an exceptional rate. They may not have the practical skills of someone who has been in their industry for five years, but they will be willing to learn and have a strong grasp of fundamental theory. It is for this reason that freshly graduated and current students can often provide the boost your business is looking for.

Business schools will usually have whole departments dedicated to placing students in local businesses, yet many business leaders don’t automatically think of their local or regional university when they have a recruitment need. In addition to this, universities are in the unique position of getting to know the students over months of face-to-face interactions and will be able to find the right character fit for your business.

Through your local business school, you can avoid excruciating recruitment and advertising costs by directly meeting with future talent ahead of them finishing their degree through placements, internships, and projects. 

What do SMEs need to do before reaching out to business schools for placement/graduate positions?

Often, SMEs do not have the knowledge, time, or skills to develop job descriptions and person specifications. Business schools will have teams to help create an understanding of what skills and capabilities placements and graduates will need, and support in advertising the role. Allowing enough lead time when contacting the business school will ensure that these mechanisms are utilised efficiently.

Often, many businesses do not realise the types of business support and functions a university offers. Speaking with university teams about business needs can often lead to other opportunities becoming available such as:

Knowledge transfer partnerships (KTP) – a collaborative project between the university, a business and a suitably qualified graduate or post-graduate. A KTP enables a business to access knowledge, technology, or skills within the university in order to resolve a strategically important business or technical issue, while allowing academics to test, apply, and translate their research into industry.

Additional education – most business schools offer a range of short courses that can help you get to grips with a particular aspect of your business that is otherwise alien.

Talent acquisition – aspiring business school students are often looking for their first step into the world of business and this can be provided via an internship. Julie Haig of Haigs fresh food business utilised a six-month marketing intern to help with her unique brand of advertising.

How do you form relationships with business schools?

If you are reading this, you are no doubt an alumni of the Help to Grow: Management Course and should already be well positioned to utilise your relationship with the business school. Each business school is different, and the departments and number of staff dedicated to fostering relationships with local businesses will be different too. But employability, placements, degree apprenticeships, and research teams are generally a good place to start.

Developing a relationship with the business school allows you to work more proactively. It will give you time to plan internally, and work with the university’s timeline of when and how you can access talent as well as other services. Ensuring the opportunity is clear and the type of individual that would fit the role will help speed up the process.

Case study: Sheffield Hallam

One business school that has been at the forefront of collaboration with businesses in South Yorkshire is Sheffield Hallam. The Hallam internships scheme teams up with local businesses to provide recent graduates with 100 hours of work experience.

The business school helps local SMEs to advertise and recruit, including support with creating job descriptions and promotion of the roles. In 2023, the Hallam Internships scheme has advertised 56 roles for SMEs across South Yorkshire and successfully appointed 38 graduates to these roles (almost 70%).

This collaboration is part of a three-year project called Higher Skills Higher Growth (one of the finalists in the SBC Small Business Excellence awards and winner of the ISE Best University & Employer Engagement Strategy 2022). Since launching the project in 2020, Hallam has supported 300 SMEs with 500 work experiences including internships, short placements, applied projects, apprenticeships, and freelancers.

The business school graduates have received wraparound support from the Sheffield Hallam Employability Team, giving guidance on applications, interviews, and a final reflective practice to help understand the skills they have learnt and advance their careers.

Associate Professor at Sheffield Business School, Sheffield Hallam University, Alexandra Anderson details the support already provided to local SMEs: ‘The Help to Grow: Management Course has served as the perfect entry point for SMEs into Sheffield Hallam and all the services the business school offers. Of the 150 participants that have completed the course at Hallam, 48% have gone on the access further support at the business school. Of that 48%, 21 have provided graduate jobs, internships, or placements.’

Next steps

Business schools are an untapped resource for SMEs around the country. In many cases, they can not only save substantial amounts of money on recruitment, but also support SMEs on their growth journeys.

As alumni of the Help to Grow: Management Course, you will be perfectly placed to either re-engage with the business school you completed the course at or cultivate a new relationship with the business school in your local area.

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Two leaders or senior managers from a business with 10 to 249 employees can now attend the 12 modules of learning and get the benefits of one-to-one mentorship.