I began working at Sheffield Hallam when the UK currency was still measured in shillings and pence, but ended up netting millions of pounds for the University – and thousands of jobs across the city – as the mainstay of its knowledge transfer programme.
Now, as knowledge transfer celebrates its 40th year and I look forward to my 70th birthday, I’m lifting the lid, so to speak, on some of the businesses and individuals who have benefited from the programme over the years.
I joined the University when it was still known as Sheffield City Polytechnic in 1970 and still work there part-time more than 45 years later.
In that time, I’ve been responsible for the majority of KTPs – a three-way partnership between a business, UK university or college and a recently qualified graduate – since overseeing my first one in 1979.
Since then, the University’s Materials Engineering Research Centre, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has delivered more than 160 KTPs sponsored by Innovate UK which, at today’s prices, have generated £22.4 million income.
Based on Innovate UK modelling for the impact of KTPs, MERI’s work with industries in Sheffield using KTP’s has generated £95 million of increased profit; £73 million investment in plant and machinery; 2,500 new jobs and 4,800 company staff trained.
Academic partners produce on average more than three new research projects and two research papers for each project and around 60 per cent of associates are offered a permanent job in the company when the project ends.
But it’s a far cry from the late 1970s when I lectured in the University’s department of engineering and computing when companies were beginning to turn to Universities to help them computerise and modernise their businesses.
My first involvement with KTP was in 1979 when it was known as the Teaching Company Scheme (TCS) and as a Senior Lecturer in Engineering Design I was asked if I fancied supervising a research student based in local company Davy McKee.
They designed and manufactured steel processing equipment used all around the world and it was explained to me that TCS was a means of supporting the introduction of recent graduates into the manufacturing sector, through a mentoring programme concerned with the delivery of a challenging project.
The graduates were called associates and my first one was a guy called Stephen Lidgate, who later went on to a senior position in the company and its successive incarnations.
Large companies were recruiting several graduates and achieving significant commercial benefits in the form of new designs, management information systems or marketing strategies.
Another early feature of the scheme was the use of Learning Contracts whereby Associates obtained higher degrees by the reporting of TCS achievements. For the first 50 programmes of my involvement more than 50 per cent of associates achieved an MSc degree.
From those humble origins, scores of companies based in South Yorkshire and beyond have queued up for the programme.
In association with the University, Tinsley Bridge developed rapid nanotechnology research into steel production to deliver stronger and lighter suspension for British Army vehicles.
Meanwhile, advanced computer-aided engineering techniques developed with Joseph Rhodes helped to secure more than £14m worth of orders and a £10m annual sales turnover increase.
KTP associate Karthik Ramakrishnan worked on 3D modelling techniques while at the company and now has a permanent role as a finite element design engineer after a project shortlisted for best KTP Award 2011.
But in many ways, my greatest achievements are in helping individuals to transform their careers.
One was a lad from the west country called Stephen Fox. He had started his working life as a joiner and was operations director for an engineer-to-order company in Swindon. He then obtained a place at our modular MSc in Engineering course. One of the modules was taught by myself on Design for Manufacture and Stephen felt he could apply those principles to bespoke buildings and bespoke building components.
We ran a TCS programme with the company on product rationalization and production optimization which was quite successful. In the process, Stephen got the academic bug and felt he could undertake a research programme in this area. Then, with support from some of the major building companies in the UK he conducted research on a variety of projects and completed his thesis in 2002. Shortly afterwards he joined VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland continuing his research into the development, design, production and operation of original complex product-services.
Several companies moved up the supply chain by the introduction of a technical design capability.
ACs Stainless Steel Fixings of Leeds had several programmes over a six-year period from 2005-11 to enhance the technological design base of the business and has seen 100 per cent growth in its business. The original KTP Associate, Matthew Freeman, is currently employed as Product Development Manager.
Penny Hydraulics of Clowne achieved major diversification in its business from hydraulic mining equipment to operating in the nuclear industry, through the activities of Associate Simon Pykett, who was named as Business Leader of Tomorrow by KTP in 2011.
He set up and is General Manager for the Nuclear Division of the business specialising in mechanical handling equipment for nuclear decommissioning and reprocessing equipment. In two years after completion of the KTP programme turnover for the division had exceeded £2million from a standing start.
For each of the above relationships, and the vast majority of others not mentioned here, there have been many additional benefits. Sponsorship of student projects and prizes, part-time students, research proposal support and placements for sandwich students are just a few of the ways in which relationships have been developed.
Needless to say I could not have achieved any of this without support from academic colleagues acting as supervisors and administrative support.
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed every minute from 1979 until now. The objectives for the scheme have remained the same since inception – to provide recent graduates with accelerated mentored professional experience, improve the skill base of the company through the academic supervisor and provide real world experience for the academic supervisor to incorporate into research and teaching.
And for every programme we completed I can recall at least one example which was incorporated into my teaching and several research opportunities.
The University will be celebrating KTP@40 on 13 October at the next MDs Club. The event is at Gripple, and Mark Ridgway from Group Rhodes is one of the speakers. Contact Alex Prince on 0114 225 5000 for more details.