The power of partnerships

The power of partnerships

Northumbria University works closely with North East businesses on a number of initiatives to boost know-how and training, as Peter Jackson reports.

Northumberland-based firm Renown Engineering is seeing its profits soar as a direct result of working in partnership with Northumbria University.

The company has two Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, KTPs – one with Newcastle Business School which has seen the implementation of a business and marketing strategy – and the other with the Faculty of Engineering and Environment, which has introduced a New Product Development capability.

KTPs support businesses which are keen to improve their competitiveness, productivity and performance by accessing the knowledge and expertise that is available within universities.

The company originally asked the university to establish new processes for the firm’s design, analysis and manufacturing operations.

Mechanical engineering graduate Jack McCusker worked as an associate at the firm and has played a key role in helping the company to re-invent itself as a high-tech, value-added company with its own products and brands.

As a result of the KTP, new processes have been introduced which have enabled the rapid development and cost-effective manufacture of new products and will also enable the company to develop other products for existing and new markets.

A few months later Renown Engineering started another KTP to help with its marketing. Although the company had successfully expanded through acquisitions and felt it could supply a variety of markets, management felt the company needed marketing expertise.

A KTP was initiated with Newcastle Business School graduate Ben Moore being given the task of embedding a more strategic approach to business management. As a result, a three-year strategic plan has been drawn up setting out the company’s future direction and a customer relationship management programme has been introduced.

Managing director of the Renown Group, John Hamilton, said: “Since the KTPs started, our sales have risen from £11m to £15m and profits have also increased. “The KTP relationship has been a great success, it continues to deliver tangible benefits, not just to the growth of the business, but also injecting a feel good factor which is permeating throughout the Renown team.”

In addition to boosting the firm’s profits and competitive advantage, the university reports that the KTPs have provided valuable experience and commercial awareness to the associates involved.

The partnerships have also led to new research projects and teaching materials, conference presentations and more graduate employment.

Dr Phil Hackney, senior enterprise fellow at Northumbria, said: “I have been involved with KTP projects for 15 years and firmly believe they provide a win, win, win situation for the company, the university and the associate.”

Working with businesses on training is not limited to KTPs for Northumbria University. Collaborative working between the university and Newcastle-based engineering group British Engines is paying dividends for staff.

A project, funded by the National Higher Education, HE, STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, programme, is aimed at learners with no previous experience of HE. Engineering academics accredited the training undertaken by nine team leaders and managers.

Mechanical engineering academics Jenna Tudor and Martin Birkett helped British Engines BEL Valves division to assess their existing training programme and developed modules based on live workplace projects.

The students completed a range of modules in engineering, computing and personal development as well as putting together a portfolio of evidence.

All employees who took part in the scheme received individual Higher Education credits for their work Which they can use their credits to support future learning development in Higher Education.

Ray Couch, human resources manager at BEL Valves, said: “All the learners worked incredibly hard, fitting their studies around their shift work and family life. The company is already benefiting from the projects they worked on as some have helped us already to reduce waste and improve efficiency. In addition, it has strengthened our relationship with Northumbria University and paved the way for future collaboration.”

Keith Grant, continuous improvement trainer at BEL Valves, said: “We’ve developed an excellent relationship with the university and are now considering rolling out this programme to other areas of the company to see if we can extend accreditation to others areas of our work.”

David Bell, associate dean in the Faculty of Engineering and Environment at Northumbria, said: “In today’s rapidly changing business environment, organisations need to be sure that they are developing their people in line with the needs of their clients.

“Partnership working in this way can unlock the potential of our external partners but also helps the university by ensuring our students’ programmes are up-to-date and relevant to today’s workplace.”

Machine shop manager Paul Brady took part in the work-based training and gives it an enthusiastic thumbs up. He said he found the training relevant because it focused on projects staff were already working on.

In his case, he was able to analyse the quality performance of products and use new procedures to improve both quality and productivity. Although he already had permission from his employer to embark on a degree, the training also acted as a catalyst.

As a result of taking part in the training he earned 20 credits which, together with previous experience and qualifications, allowed him to progress directly onto the second year of a degree programme at Northumbria.

He is currently studying part-time for a degree in leadership and management at Newcastle Business School.

“The degree programme fits with my job and it was recommended by other workers at Bel Valves who had completed it. The workload is heavy but I’m enjoying it immensely,” he said. “I’m confident that the degree will develop me as a manager and act a spring board to the next tiers of management.”