SMEs could be key to retaining Nottingham talent, say business students

NBS students at Measuring Up
NBS students at Measuring Up
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Housing, high-quality jobs and better connections to Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) could be the key to retaining more graduates in Nottingham, according to students from Nottingham Business School.

More than 200 final year students on economics as well as Business and Management and Human Resource Management – degrees worked in teams to analyse Nottingham’s graduate retention figures – the lowest of the UK’s eight core cities[1] – and make recommendations for keeping more young professionals in the city.

The groups explored themes such as the relationship between graduates and SMEs; the supply of, and demand for, graduate level jobs; the impact of the recession; and social, ethical and community issues.

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A key issue found by many of the groups was the need to improve the connections between SMEs and graduates, particularly important in Nottingham where they outnumber large, multinational organisations.

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Recommendations included better communication about the benefits of working for a smaller company and the advantages of employing graduates; and incentives and support for SMEs which offer placements, internships and graduate roles. It was also suggested that SMEs would benefit from support with the management of graduate recruitment.

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Ashley Wareing, BA (Hons) Business and Human Resources student, said: “There are several barriers for SMEs when recruiting graduates. They face time and cost constraints compared to larger companies and they can’t always keep up with the recruitment market in order to attract graduates.”

With the cost of living lower in Nottingham than many other cities, such as London, some of the groups felt that more affordable, quality housing could be made available for graduates.

Luke Dale, BA (Hons) Economics, said: “We felt that rather than Help to Buy schemes, which just increase housing demand, subsidies for construction companies to build graduate housing could help to increase the supply of quality homes in the city.”

When it comes to the quality of jobs, the perception of Nottingham was one of underperforming economically and lacking in quality roles in the service, financial and insurance sectors, with graduates feeling they could be overqualified for many positions.

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Milton Tomlinson-Dennis, studying BA (Hons) Business Management and Economics, added: “In some cases there is a lack of knowledge and understanding about the type of job opportunities available and it’s important that the universities and the local council work coherently to give graduates information about what’s available to them.”

Many of the groups also looked at the need to improve some social factors, such as the standard of education and level of depravation in the city, which may impact on a graduate’s decision to live in Nottingham long-term.

The project – named Measuring Up: Graduate Retention in Nottingham – was run by Chris Lawton, senior research fellow and economics lecturer, and Stefanos Nachmias, senior lecturer in the Department of Human Resource Management, at Nottingham Business School, which is among the top 5% of the world’s business schools.

Chris Lawton said: “One of the groups rightly mentioned the ‘boomerang effect’ which impacts on our retention figures. We recruit a large number of students from London and the South East, rather than the local area, so many will naturally return home after their studies.

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“What we’re trying to do through this project is make Nottingham as attractive as possible to graduates and reach those who have been living in the ‘student bubble’ and don’t know what the city can offer them as a young professional.”

Stefanos Nachmias added: “From its inception, the project was aiming to achieve two key goals: enable students to assess issues associated with graduate retention in the city, and enhance their career prospects. The results show that students were able to raise their awareness of the need to promote employment in SMEs across the city, while further advancing their teamwork, critical thinking, communication and network skills. The idea of experiential learning and practical evaluation was at the core of the teaching strategy.”

The students displayed their work at an event which saw employers come along to meet them and talk about the research, exploring the potential recommendations with the soon-to-be-graduates. The event concluded with a panel discussion and Q&A with members of the education and business communities, including Nottingham Trent University Vice-Chancellor Professor Edward Peck; editor and publisher of the Nottingham Post, Mike Sassi; Nottingham City Council employment and skills strategy manager, Steven Heales; head of research at the Chartered Management Institute, Patrick Woodman; and former PwC partner, Phil Harrold.

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Dean of Nottingham Business School, Professor Baback Yazdani, who also took part in the panel, said: “A city is not just about building and organisations, the active ingredient is people and the engine of its economic vibrancy are its graduates. We do need more graduate jobs in Nottingham and this requires investment in the city to attract big businesses. We are the land of the industrial revolution, we need to think bigger, and as a world-leading business school, we play our part in this by producing great and highly employable graduates and directly engaging in the life of the city through our research and development with public and private businesses across the region and beyond.”

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