How Do We Connect with Students and Universities Better?

The Talent Exchange  

After in-depth chats with many leaders from BCP and Dorset’s digital creative sector, one of the biggest challenges highlighted were the issues around talent. 

Some of this is firmly focused on attracting mid-level staff – but there is also a big disconnect for many between their business and BCP’s universities. Apologies, but let me start by lobbing a few rocks at the unis… 

Companies are finding it hard to attract the interest of graduating students and there is a feeling that the graduates have little knowledge of the local creative digital economy. The suspicion is that students are being pointed towards London during their courses. 

Many companies have tried to engage the faculties themselves, but find there is a lack of continuity in communication and it is hard to maintain an ongoing relationship. If they do manage to attract graduate applications they often complain that the students are not properly prepared for the workplace or they have been taught things that are not really relevant for business. 

But the industry also has to take some responsibility too. Some businesses do manage to create long-lasting relationships with faculties but, when they do, they normally keep that to themselves and don’t share the secrets of their success. 

Others are keen to fill short-term needs and don’t spend the time trying to forge longer-term relationships. The industry has, also, been pretty singular in its approaches. The sector has not come together to make it easier for the universities to deal with it. 

But enough of recriminations – what can we do?  

First off let’s face some facts: Unis are big, creative companies are invariably small – they speak different languages and they work with different concepts of time – and timelines.  But, like the proverbial tanker, it’s harder for the universities to change course than for agile creative companies. 

So, it’s up to us to make it easy. We have to provide them with continuity. Silicon South has stuck its head above the parapet to offer itself as a single point of contact to help with that. If we can provide continuity across the sector as a whole, it allows companies to dip in and out individually as they need to.  

And we’re taking a long-term view – to devise a step-by-step approach which can incrementally help us to build strong and valued ties. But it’s hard to know where to start! Different depts. often want different things. The one thing we do know everyone wants – is access to work placements. It’s an essential component of BU’s courses and AUB is keen on exposure to industry experience too. 

We’re launching the Talent Exchange to support this. If we can enable students to find local companies who can provide the sort of experiences they’re looking for it does several things: 

  • Just one search gives them a broad picture of the local industry they don’t currently have 
  • Taking on a placement gives a company the chance to influence exactly what a student ought to learn – so they are much better prepared when they graduate 
  • A positive experience offers a strong chance to employ someone afterwards 

Making this work helps to build trust with the unis and opens the doors to future interactions – e.g. guest lectures to their student from you; or chances to shape future course structures, etc. 

Positively, there are some strong indicators from both unis they are open to this. We already have backing from all of the placement officers to direct their students to the Talent Exchange; Ian Jones – BU’s Head of External Engagement – is working strongly to forge partnership links; Matt Desmier has just taken up a role as Business Engagement and Knowledge Exchange Manager for the media and comms school; AUB has appointed Anna Farthing as Executive Director of External Engagement.  

There are people in place wanting to support this, but we have to prove that the industry wants it. Our first step focuses on Placements, Work Experience and Apprentices. They can offer low-cost, valuable support to help your business.  

If this is going to work, unsurprisingly, it needs local companies to take part. If you have space to support this, now would be a perfect time to put yourself forward. Often feedback to Silicon South has been ‘what does it do for me?’  Hopefully, this offers a direct benefit for everyone involved but, by just acting alone, the past shows the limits of what can be achieved. Seeing your involvement as part of a much wider plan, we can build something that has benefit over the long-term for everyone. 

The Talent Exchange is available to all Silicon South Supporters, but otherwise completely free.

How Will the Talent Exchange Work?



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