Posted 30.04.2021

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.

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