Why university collaboration will add value to your business

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By U2B Staff 

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In today’s fast-paced business environment, innovation is king. Gone are the days of resting on your laurels; leaders must always be looking to the future, adding value, and always seeking out new opportunity for growth.

Capturing this momentum isn’t always easy. The fast pace can lead to challenges as well as opportunities, but with the right resources and mindset, companies can innovate and grow by capitalising on the rapid speed of change.

To succeed in such a climate, it is imperative for leaders to keep evolving and ensure their team has what it needs to get the job done – whether that be human capital, facilities, finances, or simply inspiration.

But hiring new staff is costly and time-consuming. Buying in the most cutting-edge equipment and latest technology is expensive. And the expert insight needed to turn ambitious ideas into reality isn’t always easy to come by.

That’s where university collaborations can help, providing the creative injection needed to take a business to the next level. For companies looking to grow, their value cannot be denied.

In Australia, for example, formal collaborations between Australian businesses and universities generate an impressive AU$10.6 billion a year in revenue directly for the firms who partner with universities.

As for the UK, knowledge exchange activity from partnerships with business to engagement with community saw English universities generate over £3.7 billion in the 2017-18 period. This also resulted in the creation of over 3,500 graduate start-up businesses and attracted some £146 million of investment into the national economy.

The financial benefits are significant, but the benefits are not only restricted to the balance book.

Collaborations come in all shapes and sizes. Certain initiatives will be better suited to some companies than others, whether you’re looking to find a solution to a specific problem or just looking to get some fresh talent through the door. The range of partnership potential means decisionmakers wanting to shake things up and grow their company can easily find experts who understand their needs.

Whatever a company’s ultimate goal, there are umpteen ways partnering with academia can help those aspirations become reality. Here are just a few:

#1: Plugging the skills gap

A lack of appropriately skilled employees is a problem that touches most industries across the UK.

And it comes at a great cost to business bottom lines and the national economy; data from Accenture says the digital skills gap could see the UK GDP miss out on £141 billion worth of unrealised potential.

A shrinking talent pool has resulted in a highly-competitive recruitment landscape, with SMEs struggling the hardest as larger corporates get first dibs on the best hires. An independent survey by Robert Half UK of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) across the country said one-third find recruitment to be their biggest talent management challenge, following by improving productivity and talent retention.

Degree Apprenticeships

It’s undeniably a challenging problem, but with the help of a university collaboration, companies will discover the key to finding exceptional talent lies far closer to home than they thought.

Through professional apprenticeships and professional development courses, universities can help businesses upskill their current employees – creating a win-win for both employer and employee.

While companies gain the required skills needed for their advancement, the staff member also has the opportunity to progress their career and grow their skill base – an absolute essential in today’s dynamic job market.

Better than taking on a new member of staff, business leaders can instead nurture valuable team members and cater the training so it aligns with their specific business needs – whether that be management, digital upskilling, or technical solutions.

This isn’t just restricted to working professionals. By teaming with universities on undergraduate degree apprenticeships, companies can also develop a reliable pipeline of talent.

By recruiting and training apprentices, business leaders can develop people in a way that promotes the specific skills required by their company and industry.

In addition to building a company’s skills base, providing quality training to current staff and apprentices also improves staff retention. Staff typically feel loyal to employers who have invested in their training, and are therefore more engaged and motivated to stay.

#2: Boost productivity & Competitiveness

The benefits of degree apprenticeships have a ripple effect and are reflected in the overall performance of a business.

A study from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) found that, on average, each apprentice brings a gain in productivity of more than £10,000 per year for their employer, with figures for some sectors like engineering being almost double this.

Investing in degree apprenticeships also makes a business more competitive, with 77 percent of employers agreeing that it helped make their organisations more competitive. A major factor of this is the boost to reputation that comes with apprenticeships.

CEBR reports that 8 out of 10 customers prefer to buy from companies that employ apprentices. They are also strongly associated with supporting the local community, according to 42 percent of respondents, providing opportunities for young people (65 percent), and with being a good place to work (43 percent).

#3: Turn ideas into reality

For businesses to add value, they need to overcome hurdles and find avenues to turn their next innovation into reality. University collaborations can offer that opportunity.

Through the UK’s knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) initiative, business can gain access to the tools and resources needed to take that next step. It pairs a business with a university department and a recently qualified graduate, known as an associate.

Think of KTPs as sharing the wealth when it comes to the UK’s extensive knowledge base. The country is home to some of the best universities in the world, and with it, the best expert minds, research, and facilities to boot.

Rather than restrict these assets to academia, the government is enabling business to connect with university teams to work on finding innovative solutions to real-life problems.

Projects can last anywhere from three months to three years, and use the collective expertise and drive of both teams to mutual benefit. Companies gain access to a university’s cutting-edge equipment, along with world-leading research and academic support. And while the associate gets real-life training, academics get exposure to working business practices.

The UK government also ensures it’s a highly cost-effective way of getting that value-adding assistance. SMEs only need contribute a third of the overall project cost, while larger companies may need to provide half of the cost.

But the investments more than payoff. Over the five years between 2011 – 2016, each partnership has reportedly benefitted from an average £600,000 per year increase in pre-tax profit for the three years following completion of a KTP project. Not to mention, businesses that invest in research and development (R&D) grow twice as fast and have higher exports compared to those non-innovators that don’t.

Given the value-adding potential of these schemes, it’s important to seek out a university that has experience working with business and that understands the unique needs of each industry. One such institution is Birmingham’s Aston University.

Here’s a snapshot of how they can help boost business:

Aston University, UK

This West Midlands university has a long and proud history of working with industry. It is this longstanding experience that makes Aston University ideally placed to understand the unique needs of each business and pinpoint the skills and knowledge needed to help it thrive.

Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, Aston works with each company to tailor solutions to their business needs, solving real-life problems with practical solutions.

Degree Apprenticeships
Aston University

When it comes to upskilling a workforce, they have it covered, personalising degree apprenticeships for each organisation through specialist elective modules, case studies, assignments and final projects.

As one of the first to offer the programmes, the university has developed degree apprenticeships that train learners in both hard and soft skills.

If a company is looking to improve management practices, courses like Executive Apprenticeship MBA and Engineering Leadership and Management Degree Apprenticeship can help existing staff take that next step in their career. Industry-relevant courses, like Digital and Technology Solutions Specialist Degree Apprenticeship, can also help plug any damaging skills gap in a team.

As a university that attracts focused and career-minded students, Aston’s undergraduate degree apprenticeships provide a reliable pipeline of excellent talent. Investing in training and nurturing new talent will have lasting benefits for any company, whether that be in healthcare, engineering, or tech solutions. In testament to their expertise, Aston was recognised as the 15th best Training Provider at the 2019 RateMyApprenticeship Awards.

Ranked 9th in the UK for KTPs and 1st in the West Midlands, Aston has also teamed up with some big names to boost competitiveness, productivity and performance. Firms partnering with the institution have reported an average return on investment of an impressive 1,107 percent.

One happy partner was the British Association of Social Workers, who gained “fresh insights and capabilities” that have enabled them “to flourish as a fresh and vibrant membership organisation and to grow at a time when many other organisations were feeling the effects of very tough economic conditions.”

Business is one of Aston’s main beneficiaries. Their whole strategy is modelled around helping businesses and their employees not just succeed but excel. You can see this commitment in the broad range of collaborations on offer and the results really speak for themselves.

* Aston University is a commercial partner of U2B.