Opinion

Power innovation with work experience talent

5 min read

05 January 2018

David Docherty, CEO of the National Centre for Universities and Businesses (NCUB) and Chairman of Placer, explains how work experience can be used to inspire SMEs and help recruit the talent needed to power innovation.

The government’s new Industrial Strategy highlights the need for increased innovation to power our economy. Many SMEs, smaller in size and more agile, are already finding new ways to innovate. But how should they power innovation?

With smaller budgets and limited time, how can SMEs ensure they have the best team and the best minds to inspire ideas which deliver? One key solution is to help top talent enter the business from the outset by offering a programme of quality work experience.

Recruit a diverse team to help scale-up

For businesses of all sizes but particularly for SMEs, to power innovation comes from being able to look beyond the organisation for inspiration, avoiding “group-think”. One way to support this is ensure there is a diverse range of minds around the table, with a variety of ages, backgrounds and outlooks.

It makes financial sense – a 2015 McKinsey report found companies with a diverse mix of employees are 35 per cent more likely to outperform their competitors and have financial returns above the national industry average.

The right mix of genders, physical abilities, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds and sexual orientations ensures a range of experiences are brought into the business. It’s this variety of viewpoints that can help companies to power innovation and improve decision-making.

A diverse team with an array of approaches to creative tasks, product innovation, problem-solving and reaching new markets can see higher productivity and improved results. For smaller workforces, using work experience can help create a diverse team from the very outset.

By widening access to work experience beyond a “who-you-know” method of recruitment, SMEs can access diverse student talent and multiple ideas.

How does millennial talent power innovation?

Employers are keen to recruit millennial and digitally native talent into their organisation. The good news for SMEs is that 72 per cent of millennials want to work for a small business. SMEs can take advantage of this sentiment by offering quality work experience, connecting with students who are keen to develop their skills in a small business, and source potential future employees.

Work experience opportunities, whether a taster day, a week or a year’s placement, mean SMEs can assess an individuals’ ability and train them in specific skills and qualities the company seeks, commitment-free.

Building relationships with top student talent through quality work experience means that when a graduate role arises, SMEs can access a ready-made pool of millennial talent. This talent pipeline enables employers to cherry pick possible candidates who are ready to hit the ground running, with the right skills for the business.

Bringing millennial talent into an SME can support the business to innovate in a number of ways. Recruiting work experience students brings new perspectives and inspiring ideas, which can also help energise existing staff.

And a fresh eye from outside of the business can be better placed to spot opportunities to refresh existing systems or processes. Digitally native millennials with vitally important tech skills also offer a great opportunity to implement a reverse-mentoring system and upskill members of the team who may need to hone their digital expertise.

Engage with students in the language they understand

Using innovative technology that offers structure and scale to access a wider range of students looking for work experience, can save vital resources for time-poor SMEs. Placer, a work experience app and platform connecting employers offering work experience with students, reduces subconscious bias by first presenting students to employers based on interests and skills alone.

This has two key benefits; firstly, it levels the playing field for the student as employers shortlist candidates based on their skills and interests alone. Secondly, presenting employers to students in the same way, it enables students to look beyond familiar big brand names, and learn where their skills and interests fit with a wide range of SMEs they may not have previously considered.

If employers want the best, they have to be the best. Offering an inspiring taster-day, week, month or even year-long placement can create lasting relationships with diverse young talent – essential fuel for continued means to power innovation.

David Docherty, CEO of the National Centre for Universities and Businesses (NCUB) and Chairman of Placer

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