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North East firm leads the way in tackling Northern Powerhouse ‘skills gap’

Jun 17, 2016 | Regional Business

A North East company is leading the way in preparing university students to compete in the world of work.

The aim follows research that suggests employment opportunities for recent graduates have fallen by eight per cent in the last year.

Newcastle based Smart Resourcing Solutions have developed an innovative project with Manchester Metropolitan University, as part of a growing acknowledgement of the need to a link graduates with the skills gaps identified by employers across the Northern Powerhouse.

SRS, a specialist graduate recruitment consultancy based in Newcastle, worked with Manchester Metropolitan University to stress test student’s employability skills, a key issue in an increasingly competitive jobs market for graduates of Northern Universities.

Sophie Milliken, Operations Director of SRS explained: “It is now a really competitive jobs market out there for students. There are around 400,000 students graduating from University each year, with just 40,000 vacancies in graduate development programmes.

We see many Universities, especially those in the North, facing increasing pressure to improve the employability prospects of their students. The university landscape has changed significantly since the increase in tuition fees and the project in Manchester was exactly about trying address what employers see as a skills gap.”

According to recent research, the students who entered University in 2012 will leave with an average debt of £53,000, highlighting more than ever, the need for graduates to be confident that they will secure a graduate level job, something Sophie calls says is a growing issue for students.

Sophie said “Whether it is in the North East or in Manchester, what we are seeing is students looking for a real return on their investment. At the end of the day securing a good job is what counts for many students.”

SRS worked with the University to help students develop much needed employability skills, enabling thousands of students to be better prepared for successful entry into the graduate jobs market.

MMU have now built the award winning “Synergy” unit into their curriculum, focused exclusively on student’s future employability prospects. The unit provides a compulsory test over 800 students, replicate assessments from graduate employers.

Sophie added: “To our knowledge no other university is investing in a similar kind of programme for their students on this scale, taking them through the full graduate recruitment journey. If the Northern Powerhouse is going to deliver, then it is vital we see more universities tackle this issue head on with real investment. The skills gap and employability are real concerns for employers.”

Caroline Herz, Faculty Curriculum Co-ordinator and Employability Champion at Manchester Metropolitan University said “We feel that it has now become a necessity to prepare our students for this method of application and working with Smart Resourcing Solutions has allowed us to provide students with the support and level of professionalism that is now expected more than ever in the workplace. We can now be confident that all our students have the skills to cope with the competition set up for them nationally and to compete confidently amongst their peers and we are one step in-front of the graduate process implementing this at a much earlier stage of their university life.”

The project has already shown results, with the University on course to surpass previous graduate recruitment records, with 242 students from the Class of 2015/16 with confirmed offers of placement compared with 210 for 14/15.

Serena Hayes, one of those who went through the Synergy Unit said “I went into it so nervous and un-confident about it all and thinking that I was going to hate it. However, I came out having completely gained a new found confidence I never thought I had. I will be taking that with me through my placement preparation. This needs to be done throughout all the university courses.”

The project was recently recognised at the CIPD awards, celebrating their tenth year, at the Newcastle Marriot Hotel, Gosforth Park. The awards recognise and celebrate outstanding HR&D achievements and impact on business success.