· Features

Working with universities to fill skills shortages

Much is written about the skills shortages in the UK and the need to bridge the link more effectively between education and employment.

This is something I have long been passionate about, having experienced these gaps first-hand from the perspective of being a graduate trainee myself, then as a line manager, as a leader of development programmes and now as an employer with challenging targets for jobs growth.

Of course, bridging this link effectively is easy to talk about. It’s more difficult to actually do. Working closely with universities is one way forward, as we have discovered at Hastings Direct.

Last year we began partnerships with both Sussex and Brighton universities, putting the issues firmly on the table and jointly working to create innovative and bespoke solutions. We are also working with schools and colleges in Sussex and are in dialogue about some longer-term plans for collaboration.

At Sussex, I was impressed with the ‘learning to lead’ programme that I’d been invited to assist with. This programme emphasises personal accountability and provides undergrads with an insight into the skills and tasks of leadership. I have seen its results and was struck by how much confidence participants came away with. We have now designed a module that fits within the programme entitled ‘Brand you’. This helps students to think about their own personal impact and be more purposeful rather than leave it to chance – a vital skill for anyone embarking on a career.

We have also agreed placement opportunities for Sussex University students to join some of the areas of our business that are key to our long-term growth but can be challenging to recruit for. These will provide real challenge and business experience for graduates, which will add to their future employability and will hopefully attract them to a permanent role in our team.

With Brighton University we have worked in partnership to design the ‘Hastings Direct Leadership in Action’ programme. This comprises five workshops covering topics such as organisational context, leadership theory and practice, organisational culture, managing people, motivation and high performance. It also equips students with specific skills such as business writing, business presentation skills, influencing and negotiation.

Participants get to spend time shadowing and working in our business with mentoring support from our leaders. The programme is also co-delivered by our senior leaders and learning professionals. The icing on the cake is that participants get to work on a real business project that will solve a genuine business challenge. Great for us but also invaluable for them as this will help them apply their learning and get real-life experience to fuel their development. As we all know, the real learning takes place on the job, by having exposure to new experiences. The key is for us as leaders and coaches to help participants reflect on and learn from those experiences.

I am always inspired by raw talent and I’m sure we’ll find some real stars on the programme – these students could also be our future leaders. These initiatives make good business sense and I’d encourage other employers to consider how they can also play their part.

Amanda Menahem is HR director at Hastings Direct