So, we all have ideas, sometimes they come when we least expect them and sometimes we even mumble them out to strangers. As a graduate, it can be daunting joining your first professional role, to make your voice heard and navigate your way through the business and its culture of do’s and don’ts.

In 2016, the Institute of Student Employers released their annual report summarising the skills gap graduates have when joining a large corporate. Sought after skills included commercial awareness, business communication, managing up, negotiation, persuasion and influence. In response, large corporates changed their recruitment process and development programmes to attract and retain high performers.

The Employability Team at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) saw a gap in the market where we could support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with developing an innovative graduate L&D programme. This was the start of the Innovation Community Lab (ICL).

ICL is a development programme designed for early-career individuals working in an SME. ICL offers a regional professional network, peer-to-peer learning, and development of desirable skills not typically gained at University such as negotiation and change management. We wanted to support our local business community by offering a programme that gets graduates proactively innovating for their employers, catalysing business growth and encouraging long-term job retention in what we believe to be the corporates of the future.

ICL brings together delegates from a range of industry sectors and job roles. ICL provides the tools and knowledge to generate and implement and excel new ideas for innovation culture and process development tailored to their own business. It’s a free thirty-hour course, run over a six week period, which offers a practical based learning opportunity that brings real and effective solutions to ‘real world’ work based tasks.

Many SMEs don’t have the time, resources, budget or expertise to successfully engage with graduates, whether through offering employment, developing them in their role or retaining them. Many Universities want to offer support to the SME community and better engage their alumni.

Through this project, NTU is hoping to develop, within Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, stronger microclimates of regional vacancies, professional graduate communities with loyal alumni and economic development through SME growth.

Graduates experience enhanced learning and development and are more likely to stay in their roles, whilst employers benefit from a programme that would not be viable for them to run internally. Both graduates and SMEs can enhance their professional networks through the programme, and of course strengthen their relationship with the University.

The new DLHE will mean graduates will need to be engaged for longer, and LEO is on the horizon, so supporting graduates to develop in their early-career roles could be a significant driver in the future – we hope that the ICL model will help other Universities prepare for the future.

The programme takes place across six months and comprises of monthly, half-day sessions with a lead facilitator (third-part supplier Gradconsult) and external industry speakers. The graduates then conduct ‘knowledge transfer activities’ to ensure the classroom learning is being disseminated throughout the business, and that the graduates are building progressive cultures and innovative practices within their employment environment.

The Employability Team at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) saw a gap in the market where we could support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with developing an innovative graduate L&D programme. This was the start of the Innovation Community Lab (ICL).

Kylie Cook, lead facilitator for ICL says “Gradconsult work with 50% of UK’s Universities, and it’s great to see a University do something so innovative for their SME community. We have loved every minute being part ICL. It’s so rewarding to be part of small businesses growth and innovation journey, you can see how rewarding it is”.

Emmie Studencki, programme manager for ICL says, “We have been delighted to develop and implement a learning framework that functions for businesses both large and small, and can be adopted or adapted to support graduates transitioning into the rapidly changing world of work. A programme that not only addresses key skills required by the business community to prepare graduates for work, but also offer peer-to-peer learning and a regional support network of young professionals. The opportunity to develop vital business skills including commercial awareness, negotiation and management skills, will help the graduates own career and will greatly benefit their employer”

Michael Carr, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Employer and Economic Engagement explained, “The ICL project represents a further evolving of Nottingham Trent University’s innovative employer support initiatives. We are looking to support recruited graduates in their early stage-careers such that they make maximum impact within their employers. The programme has been well supported by businesses, many of whom are seeing significant benefit from this initiative.”

Upon evaluating the 2017 ICL programme, 86% of line managers said their participant’s confidence to innovate had positively improved, and 77% said the programme has had a direct impact on their capabilities to innovate.

Even more significant was the reported culture shift. Company culture is notoriously difficult to adjust and typically requires significant time periods to make just small gains. 86% of line managers felt there had been an improvement in their company culture, which is an outstanding achievement in just six months.

“The participants have really enjoyed the programme, making new networks, thinking through new ideas. The presentations and activities have really developed their confidence and each week you could see visible improvements” – Grant Whitt, Line Manager

Hannah Power, Digital and Innovation Consultant at Accenture was one of our industry speakers at ICL (December 2017). She says, “having spent the last year working within Innovation at a corporate level I am hugely impressed by the quality of the course offered by ICL. The structure and outputs of the course teach the graduate a deep understanding of Innovation and how to apply it to a variety of challenges and businesses. I am really pleased to have been a part of the course and hope to do more in the future”

NTU has successfully run three cohorts of ICL, where we have engaged over 130 graduates who are currently working in their respective businesses. These graduates are recent hires, transitioning themselves into their businesses and creating impact early in their employment. Through ICL we are building a community where the graduates can learn from each other and share best practice.


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