LAST week, 20 ambitious medium sized businesses (MSBs) from the North East met representatives from regional universities to discuss opportunities to collaborate further to create economic growth.
This was one session in a series organised by the CBI and Northumbrian Water to develop the regional capacity of medium sized businesses.
The North East has more firms of this size proportionately than any other region and yet there is limited government policy aimed at growing this critical economic engine.
The critical issue is that to innovate and grow, business needs to employ talented people with new ideas and the attitude to succeed. The five universities in the North East have an abundance of talented students, but they often do not have exposure to smaller firms in the region, instead simply meeting the graduate milk round of larger employers.
For many graduates, MSBs could offer far greater exposure to the whole business and significant responsibility earlier in their career. As the only region with a positive balance of trade, a graduate could find themselves researching new markets and leading export sales. They are unlikely to sit in a silo in one part of the organisation, but will have the opportunity to dip into a range of organisational issues seeing first hand the interaction of finance, HR, sales and operations.
For our MSBs, working with a university can create significant opportunities which reach beyond recruiting talented young people. Universities can provide expert knowledge and help develop new products or processes through knowledge transfer partnerships. They can provide consultancy or specialist equipment and increasingly some businesses such as SCM Pharma are co-locating some of their research facilities within university departments to share costs and benefit from significant economies of scale.
A small group of MSBs have committed to explore the opportunity of creating a North East MSB brand allowing them to market the opportunity of working for smaller organisations collectively. The aim is to ensure good students understand the opportunities currently available in MSBs in this region. In return the MSBs will utilise their collective knowledge to create a structured career development package for graduates joining their organisation, with appropriate training.
Attracting the best graduates is not as simple as sticking an advert on a student union noticeboard. A structured approach involving working with appropriate faculty staff, sponsoring prizes, offering summer placements and sandwich years all ensure savvy employers such as Waterstons in Durham can “cherry- pick” excellent motivated students. It also ensures students arrive in the organisation work ready and excited - having had significant opportunity to understand the culture, working practices and opportunities in a MSB.
By harnessing the region’s MSBs and ensuring they reached the average national growth for businesses the North East could secure an additional £1.7bn. Working with universities provides an excellent springboard and therefore the CBI looks forward to working with these MSBs on developing an “M” employer brand recognised and rated by North East students.
:: Sarah Green is regional director of the CBI