Historically graduates and SMEs have not always been attracted to each other. SMEs lack the ‘perceived’ opportunities of blue-chip companies, while graduates can be seen as lacking in practical experience. However some SMEs are wising up to the fact that graduates have the potential to be a huge asset.
Graduates have a lot to offer, from fresh ideas and enthusiasm to knowledge of the latest technologies, with the added advantage that costs to employ them may be less than for more experienced people. At the same time, SMEs can expose graduates to a broader work environment and general ‘business’ skills than may be gained from working in one department in a corporate.
There is no shortage of high-quality graduates with ICT skills in the West Midlands; with all 13 higher-education institutions (HEIs) offering IT-focused degrees. The region also benefits from a range of established projects aimed at helping to bring SMEs and graduates together. Business Link West Midlands can provide advice on the range of support available within specific areas.
One of the advantages of graduate employment is the scope for both parties to trial each other before committing to a permanent role through internships or work placements. From the students’ perspective they get to apply their skills and add practical experience to their CV. The employer will benefit from a low-cost, extra set of hands; a real asset in this economic downturn. The success of work placement schemes is highlighted by the fact that around 60% result in a job offer being made.
Advantage West Midlands funds Graduate Advantage which provides training and support to graduates as well as co-ordinating work placements with local businesses. Placements are flexible as they can be short or long-term (4 weeks – one year) with students working part- or full-time. As a regional organisation they have a strong understanding of local needs. By working with all the Universities in the West Midlands, they can match up companies in all sectors of business with students from a wide range of disciplines.
The graduate recruitment process, in particular the cost, can be a potential turn-off for SMEs. However an Advantage West Midlands funded scheme Grad Central offers West Midlands based businesses access to a comprehensive recruitment service with highly experienced professional graduate recruitment consultants. They are currently able to offer SMEs the chance to recruit their first graduate free of charge with subsequent graduates costing a fee of just £500.
With regional graduates facing a struggle to find employment and SMEs looking to benefit from raw talent and lower costs of graduates, the Government’s Graduate Internship Programme, Graduate Talent Pool may prove to be an attractive pull to keep graduates in the region. Under the scheme participants receive a job seekers allowance and so are ‘free’ to the company offering the Internship. SMEs interested in participating should contact Graduate Advantage which is managing the project in the West Midlands.
Another scheme open to employers of all sizes is Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) which has been inexistence for 30 years. It enables businesses to take on graduates, on a subsidised basis, to work on a significant project for 40 weeks to 3 years whilst also being supported by a local University. The number of KTPs in the region has recently been increased from 70 to 210 over the next three years. The University of Wolverhampton will lead a consortium of all 13 of the regional universities in managing all local opportunities.
Whether graduates are recruited on a temporary or permanent basis, it is important to manage them professionally. Employers need to have a role or project in mind before they start. Students should be given a full induction to the company so they understand the role that other employees play and understand the company’s business objectives. It’s also a good idea to provide a mentor and regular appraisal sessions to help ensure that both parties gain the most from the partnership.
For the Advantage West Midlands ICT Cluster, retaining graduate talent in the region is a high priority. With so much support on offer, recruiting a graduate or offering a work placement can help SMEs work through the hard times and help ensure the long term success of the region.