Month: April 2021

Academic Partnerships

3Squared Academic Partnerships

3Squared employees Rachel & Lucy at a careers fair. Lucy was previously a placement student at 3Squared but will now join the team as a graduate.

Successful academic partnerships can create amazing opportunities for all parties involved; the student, the business and the education establishment. A successful collaboration with a well-suited college or university provides a company with a multitude of benefits. However, it is important to remember that a fruitful partnership is built on mutual interest and investment in the students, the industry and the wider community, and it’s essential to ensure the student and employer are well-matched.

A year’s placement shouldn’t be a case of carrying out a year in a work environment for the sake of improving a CV or to acquire cheaper staff members, it should offer a wealth of opportunities for all involved to reap the benefits both now and in the future.

Our partnership

At 3Squared, we have a long-standing partnership with Sheffield Hallam University that has existed since the start of our business in 2002. Co-founders, Tim Jones and James Fox, both Sheffield Hallam alumni, have ensured 3Squared is well and truly committed to its partnership with the university. In the last 18 years, we have taken on 60 placements from Hallam, and our current workforce is made up of 60% Hallam alumni, clearly demonstrating a track record for converting work placement experience to real-world employment.

As with most placements, these are offered between the student’s third and final year, giving them the opportunity to transfer the skills they have acquired so far in the academic environment and build on those in the working environment. We have also recently been able to expand our partnership to include colleges, providing internships for students.

A successful partnership between a business and a university or college can create a scenario where all involved can reap the benefits.

Benefits for the student:

As well as the opportunity to build on their already learned skills and knowledge, a placement can help an individual to mature and grow personally, making them even more desirable to an employer upon graduation.

A well-placed student who is matched to not only the industry, but the business itself, has the potential to really shine. The student will also have the proven ability to integrate into a workforce, or more specifically, in a ‘team-based’ environment, as opposed to the individual working style of academia they are used to.

Placements students will gain skills specific to the industry or their chosen subject, while increasing their knowledge of the chosen sector. This offers a fantastic foresight into an industry, allowing the student to better consider their future choices in terms of employers or specific areas of a chosen field.

When a placement is a successful match and the student makes an impression on the business, there is the opportunity for employment after graduation, or at least the chance to reach out to those contacts made during their placement period for employment opportunities.

Crucially, for any student who undertakes a successful placement, being able to clearly demonstrate their ability to transfer their skills to the workplace, evidenced with references, will give them a distinct advantage in a competitive graduate recruitment environment.

According to Prospects, the graduate career experts:

‘Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can provide students with fantastic practical experience, so don’t discount them when it comes to work placements. They’re often overlooked, but small businesses are great for allowing you to act on your own initiative and develop your own way of working. What’s more, they provide superb opportunities for networking. If you’re a confident, creative and motivated team player who is prepared to get stuck in you could quickly become an asset at an SME.’

We completely agree.

There is no doubt that a placement at an SME can serve as a great stepping stone for students looking to climb onto the career ladder and gain invaluable insights into the working world. In fact, many of our past 3Squared placement students have gone on to have successful careers. Take former 3Squared placement student, Meg, for example. Meg used to work for 3Squared as an IT & Support Engineer and told us all about the vital experience she obtained and how it helped to shape what she is doing now. Meg said:

“My day-to-day responsibilities consisted of trouble shooting and solving any client issues, attending weekly check-ins with the clients, applying best practices and lessons learnt logs to improve current and future projects.”

She is now a project manager on the largest transformation programme within Co-op which is expected to bring in £70 million in benefits realisation and is currently overhauling the way it uses its stock system.

“My placement year helped me understand the next steps in my career as it gave me the opportunity to see what roles there are in the ‘real world’. I was able to figure out what I wanted to pursue after university.”

Like Meg, Simon Rose undertook a placement at 3Squared as a Software Engineer and has since gone on to achieve great things. He said:

“I worked in the .NET team at 3Squared from September 2013 to September 2014, then part-time (full time in the University breaks) until May 2016 whilst I finished my Masters”.

After graduating, he then left to do a PhD in Computer Science at Sheffield Hallam.

“I published papers and worked as a lecturer during that time (some of the recent placement students at 3Squared have been taught by me!)”

Since then, Simon has acted as the end point assessor for the Digital and Technology Solutions Specialist degree that is run by Hallam, gone freelance and started a digital marketing business. Simon added:

“I loved working at 3Squared and the skills that I gained there have definitely helped me in what I’ve done since. Both my programming & presentation skills improved hugely.”

Benefits for the education establishment:

The most obvious benefit to the education institutions who have proven placement partnerships with businesses is they can improve their reputation as a provider who not only offers the specialist education required, but is forward-thinking regarding a student’s future and employability, putting itself ahead of its competitors when attracting the best talent.

Working with local SMEs, as demonstrated by 3Squared and Sheffield Hallam’s partnership, gives an opportunity for the education establishment to form relationships with key local employers, clearing demonstrating its commitment to its surrounding community. This shows real social responsibility by keeping the skills and talent in its locale.

Benefits for the business:

Providing opportunities to placement students offers a host of benefits to your business. It is a fantastic opportunity to discover the next generation of talent that could be attracted into your industry, and the ability to fully engage those students before they enter the job market. Working closely alongside them as they take their first steps towards employment enables you to hone and develop the practical skills they need to succeed within your business. This gives you the chance to connect and build a relationship with them that can result in a permanent role in the future.

The management of placement students also offers the existing workforce the chance to nurture and mentor, building their skills and competence at the same time. For smaller businesses, younger people can provide fresh perspectives that may just change the way you do business – which is critical in an innovative company such as ours.

As with the education establishment, there is the social commitment to the local community that every business should strive to achieve where possible. Bringing in talent that has been honed on our doorstep is something we are committed to doing wherever possible.

Placements can also bring improved diversity and inclusivity to your business by attracting a wide range of individuals from all kinds of backgrounds. Diversity is beneficial in so many ways, helping your organisation to better understand its customers, boost innovation and increase company performance.

How it works in reality

3Squared’s alliance with Sheffield Hallam University has provided numerous benefits, across the board, for many years now. It not only gives us access to the next generation of digital workers and helps us obtain fresh perspectives into our industry, but it also enables us to cultivate top talent at a grassroots level.

Sheffield Hallam benefits by being able to develop students’ employability via a local business they trust and share a close relationship with, and students are able to gain meaningful experience. Working for a SME such as ourselves, as opposed to larger corporations, exposes them to different areas of the business. Working in an intimate environment means they are easily able to form valuable connections and make contributions that make a real difference.

Everyone’s a winner

In the rail and tech industries, many companies and institutions work together incredibly successfully, providing placement opportunities that are fit for purpose and mutually beneficial for all involved. The UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN) is a fantastic example of the rail industry acknowledging the skills and knowledge available within higher education and how it can be used to accelerate new technologies and provide a step-change in innovation for the rail industry.

When it comes to forging successful academic partnerships, our view is that everyone benefits if the placement is carried out thoughtfully and when the student is matched with a business in which they will thrive. Many institutions and business offer placements, but crucially it is the partnership between the two that results in the success stories for all of those involved.

To find out more about our partnership with Sheffield Hallam University, take a look at one of our recent blog posts here.

Enhancing 3Squared’s customer experience journey

3Squared present RailSmart at exhibition event

Ever since 3Squared was set up 18 years ago, customer experience has been at the heart of everything we do, but we are always looking to strengthen how we interact with our customers to ensure world-class customer service. Rather than just being viewed as a supplier who provides add-on services, we want to become an extension of our clients’ teams so that we truly make a difference to their business. To achieve this vision, we recently made some changes to our customer journey.


The idea was to make our offering even more customer-focused by providing clients with onboarding, training and extra support so that they fully understand how our products work and get the most out of them. To make those changes happen, we created a dedicated client engagement department consisting of key contacts who are fully committed to delivering exceptional customer service.

We spoke to James, co-founder and Director and team members, Becky, Kathryn to find out more about the recent changes and what clients can expect from 3Squared moving forward.


What did the customer journey at 3Squared look like before making the changes and what made you think that you needed to place a bigger focus on customer experience?



Before we created a dedicated department, client services was very much a joint effort between teams. The idea to create a client engagement department came from the directors and was in response to our clients’ needs for more supportive services both during and after implementation. Initially, I took the role of Client Services Manager with support from other teams, this went on for around a year, and within that time the demand for training, detailed engagement and onboarding grew substantially. We knew then we needed to create a dedicated team with James, 3Squared’s Commercial Director leading the Client Partnership department. With such a high demand for business change and training support, we quickly realised that we needed another team member with expertise in these areas to push us in the direction we wanted to go in. It was then that we recruited our new Client Engagement Manager, Kathryn.


Can you explain more about your role as Client Engagement Manager, Kathryn? What does it involve?



I joined 3 Squared as a Client Engagement Manager alongside Becky in November. I joined the team remotely but was given clear direction of what my role would be. Becky has an in-depth knowledge of 3Squared products and services so when I joined, I wanted to underpin the great service we deliver with my training and development expertise. As a team, we are responsible for strategising our client engagement approach and the onboarding and training packages we will deliver.


What do you think is the most important aspect for a customer on the customer journey?



For me, the most important aspect of the customer journey is having a key point of contact and building that relationship. I think that it’s really important for clients to have a person they can approach and who stay in regular contact with, to discuss any issues or concerns. For me, open, regular communication allows us to deliver the very best support and it makes the difference between us being just a supplier to a trusted partner.



People are what make businesses. When clients implement our products, engagement is often overlooked, and their efforts are focused on the technical functionalities. It is our job to work with clients to identify their end users’ needs and personalise our engagement initiatives and systems training to maximise their interests. Having a client engagement team that understands the business needs and the technologies is key to delivering an excellent, seamless, customer journey.


What does the new onboarding process look like?


It’s very much based on the framework that we used to work to. Past experience has taught us how to make the onboarding process much smoother. A lot of it now includes training and business change elements, as we’ve seen demand for these services increase so much and it’s such an essential part of the process.

We’ve been actively involved in the changes taking place within a business, so we wanted to put this forward as a key part of our onboarding offering.

We could technically deploy a software product within a few weeks and give it to people to download on their iPads, but the whole engagement around that is what was lacking in our previous process and didn’t play to the key strengths of apps and also getting end users to use the RailSmart suite to their full advantage.



Engaging with people alongside the product is often overlooked even by clients when they implement systems – they don’t always know how to engage people in their own business in their own culture. Our job is to strategically dissect that for them and direct them in the best way to do it. A lot of that is about creating a vision and capturing the hearts and minds of people so they do engage with the products and the sponsors that initiated the products so that they get the best results out of them.


How has this collaborative mindset helped to establish a standardised process for customers?



It’s the way we’re designing how we do business. We’ve done this to establish a process for clients to ensure they get maximum use out of our products. We’ve added extra tools to our suite of products such as a learning management system to help customers with the onboarding and to support them going forward. We want to have the best relationship that we can with our clients, and this is where Kathryn and Becky excel: they manage these relationships amazingly.


How has the onboarding process evolved? Have you been involving some of the clients in the process as you’ve been going along?



Yes, we carried out an engagement survey for us to recap on the lessons we’ve learnt and developed a framework that takes clients through the onboarding process. We’ve also created an early life support and client relationship life cycle ‘Keep-in-Touch’ framework which we’ve launched off the back of the survey results. We’ve invented a whole new approach to how we will engage with clients to give them structure and an idea of what to expect.



One of our clients put it perfectly when we were in a meeting a few weeks ago, they said: “we don’t want you to be a supplier, we want you to be a trusted partner”. I think it’s really important that we are viewed as a key partner helping them through the changes they are implementing. This is especially important for larger clients who have RailSmart products in every area of their business. A lot of them have our whole suite of products, so to them, we are their trusted partners. Other clients are looking to us for help and so we want to be the first point of contact when they think about anything software-related within their business – we want them to approach us first and see if 3Squared can help. The client relationship side of things is one of the key ways we can get there.


What is your commitment to clients?



Creating the virtual campus, which was launched last year, was part of the process – we’re actively putting together new resources and refresher sessions etc. to help clients with onboarding. It’s our commitment to our clients to ensure they get the optimum resource and learning from the team.


How will the onboarding process continue in a post-Covid world and how will it bridge the gaps?



From a learning perspective, we’ve had to adapt our ways of working to this new world because of Covid and with so many people now working from home. Whether through Microsoft Teams or distance learning systems such as our very own RailSmart Virtual Campus, we’ve now got a pack of resources ready to go. When the world embarks on its ‘new normal’, our efforts will allow us to deliver onboarding face-to-face, but also utilise the resources we’ve created to offer a blended learning package to any client we take on.


What does the future look like for 3Squared customers? What would be the perfect experience look like?



We want the onboarding process to be as seamless as possible. We want to provide a really supportive process where we guide the client all the way through – from the moment they sign the contract through to implementation and the ongoing relationship to build on that initial success.



By doing this, we want to ensure our satisfaction scores are improved year-on-year and at the optimum level. The aim is to deliver world-class learning resources to our clients so that they really understand our products inside and out.



From a relationship perspective, rather than clients thinking “let’s turn to 3Squared our ‘external partner”, we want them to think “let’s reach out to Becky and Kathryn, who are part of our systems delivery team” – we want to become part of our clients’ business. We are a devoted partner helping to create a true foundation for a strong, collaborative relationship.


To learn more about 3Squared’s products and how our client services team can support your business, head over to our products and services pages.

Sheffield’s 3Squared celebrates 18-year partnership with Sheffield Hallam University

Sheffield Hallam University 18 year partnership

Thanks to a fantastic collaboration with Sheffield Hallam University, digital solution specialists, 3Squared is celebrating the 18th year of awarding work placements to its students.


With each placement lasting 12 months, 3Squared has now provided placements to more than 60 Sheffield Hallam students, from its Department of Computing and Business School.


During 2020, 5 new placement students started their journey following 3Squared’s involvement in the university’s Preferred Placement Scheme, and next month sees the 60th graduate start a full-time position with the company along with 10 more confirmed placement students starting this Summer.


James Fox, co-founder and Commercial Director of 3Squared, comments:

“I’m really proud of our partnership with Sheffield Hallam. We have been working with the university since our business began back in 2002, following our own graduation from the university. We understand from our own experience how valuable work placements can be, particularly in such an innovative sector, and we’re delighted to be able to offer something back to the university and the local Sheffield community. Over 60% of our current staff are graduates of Sheffield Hallam, and the majority of our placement students have gone on to become 3Squared employees. This is a fantastic track record for us and the university, and really demonstrates both the power of the partnership and the calibre of the students in the area.”


Mike Heselton, Computing Employability Lead at Sheffield Hallam University, comments:

“We are incredibly proud of our relationship with 3Squared and the real depth of the partnership that has offered advantages to so many students, year on year for nearly two decades. The quality of 3Squared’s placements ensures our students are not just shadowing others in the workplace but are spending 12 months in a real, paid job and gaining valuable insight into the working world. The 3Squared team shows a real understanding of what creates a worthwhile placement, through the support they give, not only during the placement year, but also beyond. The success of our partnership is clearly evident in the number of permanent roles that have resulted from placements and we look forward to many more students working with 3Squared in the years to come.”


Simon Rose, who now runs his own digital marketing company, comments:

“I undertook my placement year with 3Squared from September 2013 until September 2014 and also returned to work there while studying for my Masters and during holiday breaks. I worked with the .NET team and the skills and experience I gained there have definitely helped me with what I have gone on to do since. In the three years I worked with 3Squared, my programming skills hugely improved and also my presentation skills and confidence developed through dealing directly with clients. I also learnt a lot about business processes from watching how clients were moved through the system. It was a great place to work with a really supportive team and I’d highly recommend doing a placement there.”


3Squared is based at Fountain Precinct in the city and offers pioneering digital software solutions, with high profile contracts and clients including HS2 and Network Rail. Founded by Sheffield Hallam alumni James Fox and Tim Jones, 3Squared was established in 2002 following their graduation and so began the long standing and incredibly successful partnership. James, Tim and the 3Squared team are committed to investing in the next generation of digital talent, especially if it comes from the local area and the ongoing partnership with Sheffield Hallam University is just one of the ways they are investing in the city and their local community.


Find out more about the solutions our software can supply and book a demo. 

Sheffield’s digital boom

Sheffield's digital boom graphic

The steel city’s historic reputation for metal means you might not immediately associate it with technology, but it is in fact, fast becoming a digital hotspot. In addition to its advanced manufacturing and engineering capabilities, Sheffield has a thriving digital scene, contributing over £2bn a year to the local economy. A digital report from the University of Sheffield cited that the number of digital jobs stands at 21,000 in the region, with a turnover growth rate of 47% a year. (Source: The University of Sheffield).

Tech clusters in the north

Sheffield and the north, in general, is bursting at the seams with tech specialists making significant contributions to the economy, particularly with regards to rail. The “Rail Innovation Eco-System” report from The University of Leeds and University of Huddersfield revealed that in Yorkshire and the Humber, 36 companies have created digital systems to optimise train planning and operations. These 36 companies contributed revenues of £0.4bn in 2018 (source: University of Huddersfield).

Tech savviness within the city

Sheffield has always had a brilliant creative scene and technically innovative culture. Companies such as 3Squared, and many others including PlusNet and WANdisco, that have grown up here have a real affinity with Sheffield, and a dedication to nurturing grassroots talent. It is perhaps the city’s real sense of a tech community as well as the availability of high-quality digital talent from two leading tech-fluent universities that has subsequently attracted larger organisations to locate in the city.

Sheffield’s importance on the northern tech scene is demonstrated by the fact that the city is home to the High Value Catapult centre’s Factory2050 at the AMRC (Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre), and the virtual Digital Manufacturing Meet Ups that explore the impact and reach of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, of which tech is a critical component. Sheffield is truly becoming an increasingly important digital hub.

The steel city also boasts clear buy-in from policymakers with tech-centred bodies such as Sheffield Digital having a strong presence. The Sheffield city trade association works hard to encourage members to work together to achieve a combined voice for the tech sector. From a community perspective, it works to support the tech sector in the Sheffield City Region, and helps individuals by preparing them for jobs in the digital workplace by providing skills bootcamps etc.

It is the passion and drive of organisations like Sheffield Digital and Factory2050 that helps to create a buzz around tech, putting Sheffield on the map as a thriving digital hub. From a rail industry standpoint, Sheffield is also on the cusp of realising the benefits of the Digi-Rail initiative. DigiRail is an ERDF part-funded project which provides innovative support for forward-thinking digital SMEs in rail, located within the Sheffield City Region.

Upskilling the workforce through better transport access

We believe that Sheffield’s digital prominence is due, in part, to its geographical position. Being in the ‘middle’ of the country makes it an attractive location for tech businesses wanting to set up shop there. Being close to larger cities such as Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham and London means it is easy for businesses to expand into and travel to other areas nearby.

Better still, Transport for North and Northern Powerhouse have strong links with the steel city and are all about better connecting our “metro centres” to ensure that people can access a larger job market through a more accessible and affordable public transport system in turn addressing the north’s productivity and performance gaps (source: Transport for the North). The provision of better-connected transport systems engenders socio-economic mobility. Access to better transport means access to a wider job market, thus creating an increased demand for upskilling the workforce to satisfy the needs of the modern job market, including those needed to design, build and maintain the digital railway that will be Northern Powerhouse Rail.

Nurturing digitally capable talent from a young age

A growing and buzzing hub with an increasing number of tech businesses is no doubt a positive for young people entering the workforce. It is now time to take care as a city and look more closely at how tech sectors can work better together to recruit diversely and attract people who wouldn’t normally think about working in the city or pursuing a career in tech.

This is especially relevant in rail. Now more than ever, the rail industry needs to be working together, collectively, if it is to develop a workforce that is capable of meeting the demands of the digital railway. We know that as the railway continues to digitalise, new jobs and careers will emerge that are unknown to us now.

The industry has long grappled with an ageing workforce, in addition to its struggles to attract enough people with the necessary skillsets for STEM-related jobs. The speed at which digital technology is transforming the rail landscape means that work roles are going to be very different in 5-10 years’ time, making it ever-more crucial that the industry tackles the widening skills gap and recruits the best people for the future of rail.

It has never been so important for the rail sector to make every effort to engage with children early on in the learning process i.e. in schools. There is an ongoing need to make school children aware of career paths that will be available to them and the digital skills they will require. Stereotypically, our younger generations are growing up with constantly evolving technologies and so a workplace that does not require these skills might not be attractive in the first place. But to truly appeal to the future workforce, the current working population needs to better engage and show them the reality of an industry that puts digital capability at the heart of its own development. Engaging with schools to provide meaningful learning, whether that is sharing first-hand experiences, providing contextualised learning or work experience will prove invaluable in preparing the younger generation for emerging jobs.

Strong academic partnerships

Finally, we turn to the role of the Universities. As mentioned above, both Sheffield Hallam and Sheffield University have helped to power the recent wave of economic development in the city and there is a long history of collaborative academic partnerships between both universities and employers. These factors play a huge role in driving innovation and attracting forward-thinking tech start-ups, SMEs and enterprises to locate in the city region. Partnering with universities gives businesses better control over the career development process, ensuring they hire and train the right candidates from the outset.

At the same time, it requires a dual approach. Employers need to work closely with academia and vice versa to ensure that optimum outcomes are achieved for both parties. From day one of graduating, 3Squared’s founders, James and Tim, have cultivated a close relationship with Sheffield Hallam, having established a now 18-year-old company that has constantly nurtured talent from the university. 3Squared also works with Sheffield College to recruit employees through apprenticeship schemes, recognising that attracting, identifying and nurturing skills is not only just about traditional qualifications; technology can also provide a wealth of careers, and through a wealth of education and training paths.

To conclude, Sheffield has developed a strong symbiotic relationship with the tech sector, both as an incubator of a technically innovative community and as an emerging centre of digital excellence that will continue to pull more digitally dependent companies.