I was speaking at the AGCAS Graduates into Smaller Businesses Conference yesterday, launching the research that Phil Donnelly (Step) and I have been undertaking with small businesses and undergraduates. I hope you find its satisfyingly positive conclusions as satisfyingly positive as me and Phil do. And I hope you agree with at least some of our recommendations for action. The link to Report is way down the page in the hope you’ll read the intervening paragraphs rather than click and disappear. I do so like an audience.
Action is needed to address a long-standing careers conundrum: how can we promote careers in small businesses to students who are being deluged with marketing collateral from the big names of graduate recruitment.
Progress has been made in the last five years, particularly in the number of internship programmes available with local companies, but something new needs to be done to explain more clearly the benefits of working for smaller businesses to the sort of students that would thrive in this working environment.
Because I am still in Conference mode and rather tired from talking and travelling, I think I shall speak in italicised block quotes from now on:
The size of an employer should never be a deciding factor in the choice of an employer. Big is not better. Small is not better. They are equally good but invariably offer very different career challenges. Some people who will be applying for international companies are better suited to working in a small business – and vice versa.
There’s a problem with the brand ‘SME’. Students don’t recognise the term and it’s a meaningless way to categorise different businesses. So everyone should stop using it the moment someone comes up with a better name.
Students are willing to start their careers in smaller businesses, if only they could find them.
Small business owners think that the graduates they’re employing now are better than they were five years ago. Contrast this belief with what is often heard about ‘students these days’ from larger employers.
The growing number of self-styled entrepreneurial/enterprising undergraduates on campus should logically be looking at careers which offer early responsibility, the chance to stand out and to become involved in all aspects of a growing business. This might suit them better than being one person in an annual intake of a thousand.
This is an important issue because economic growth and jobs growth will only come from small high-growth businesses.
This is an important issue because we had to turn people away from the Conference yesterday and people from organisations with initials attended. We all know that means they are important, even if you’re not sure what the letters stand for.
We had BIS, HEFCE, AGR and AGCAS (of course). We had NCUB (who spoke) and NUS (who spoke and helped with the Report). Look them up if you don’t believe me.
Students understand perfectly that smaller businesses will offer earlier responsibility and better personal development – but they also think that their CV would look better with a big name on it.
I think their parents feel the same but this is not a finding from the research, just a rather interesting thought.
According to Simon Russell from Work Group, it’s all about making small businesses an attractive career prospect rather than banging on about their size. And it’s about being honest and direct. He talked a lot about Vipers* too.
But as many people said yesterday, if we’re still talking about the same things in a year, we will have failed. Progress will be slow but I think the issues are pretty clearly defined for everyone to understand. We just need to act together, learn from each other and get buy-in from the top (yes, I’m talking about the initials people here).
The full Report of the GTI Media/Step graduates and small business survey research is here:
*More information about Simon Russell’s take on Vipers and the SME brand is here: