Conor Moss, director of education and employer partnerships at Sheffield Hallam University
Sheffield Hallam University is a powerhouse of skills experience for the region. Conor Moss, director of education and employer partnerships, tells Mike Hughes how it is helping businesses forge bigger and brighter futures.
When a new business comes to Sheffield Hallam University for help in finding skilled workers and the in-depth experience that can open up global markets for them, they know they are in good company.
For years, some of the biggest businesses in the UK have asked the university to dig deep into its resources and lift them to the next level of competitiveness. Its in-house design consultancy team has helped Marks & Spencer develop new toy packaging that reduced non-recyclable waste – and made it easier to remove the toys from their box.
Its expertise helped global market leader Quorn Foods develop an approach to sustainability that reduced their impact on
the planet and delivered savings of more than £1m.
And that level of success has attracted businesses like start-up Hopcrop Ltd, who were able to develop their specialist organic fertiliser and establish it in over 50 UK retailers, improving soil quality for gardeners and commercial growers, with Sheffield Hallam’s input.
It’s a powerful client list – which is growing at the same impressive rate as the university’s knowledge base – and the job of co-ordinating it all and identifying new opportunities falls to Conor Moss, director of education and employer partnerships, who is passionate about collaborations between the university and businesses which create employment opportunities for his students – and better prospects for Yorkshire as its economy grows.
He has a bold and clear vision of where the institution’s growth will lead. “We want to be a university for the broader region with a very applied approach to our provision for undergraduates and postgraduates, and an ultimate ambition to be a world leading applied university – creating knowledge, innovations and solutions that impact on people’s lives, and being a beacon for what a university can do for and with its community,” he told me.
“We have set ourselves bold ambitions and they have brought a focus to our work here, specifically around high-level skills and how we help to bridge that gap between providing graduates who are highly employable and impactful from day one and working hand in glove with businesses to develop their own staff and help them with their skills gaps.”
The precise targeting of the mission for Sheffield Hallam – one of the largest universities in the UK, with more than 31,000 students, around 4,500 staff, and an annual turnover of more than £265m – reflects a complete refreshing of the education sector’s role, moving from just being a provider of the raw ingredient to a partner and leader in developing skills and students ready for the marketplace.
“We work particularly closely with the LEP to identify hard-to-fill job areas, which is where our flagship RISE programme comes into its own, aiming to increase graduate employment in small and medium sized enterprises in the Sheffield City Region,” Moss explains.
“We are expanding and developing what we do all the time, as digital and manufacturing still struggle to get graduates, so we will step in and give them more of a bursary so they can offer better salaries, and we also aim to place 350 graduates into employment through our internship scheme which gives them an eight-week or twelve-week placement which will broaden the employers we work with throughout the region.
“By working so closely with businesses and finding ways to introduce them to the benefits of highly-trained graduates, we get an important insight in to the wider picture and we find a mixed perception from companies that haven’t experienced it before. But once they use us or any other university they tend to come back because they see we have the expertise here to help large or small firms.”
The experience and skills on the campus can be of vital use through collaborations in the testing of processes or materials or the design and marketing of products, and the direct provision of students to help with a specific project where fresh input can make such a difference.
“But we also want to work within those companies and help with their own people development through the newly developed degree apprenticeships funded by the apprenticeship levy,” says Moss. “We have a long history of partnerships with Yorkshire employers to upskill their staff in sectors like health and engineering and in management or leadership, which all need a very flexible delivery model which manifests itself in those degree apprenticeships.
“There are funding, political and compliance differences with offering degree apprenticeships, but at the heart of it all we are developing people for the next stage of their career – and we have always done that and will continue to do it because we are particularly good at working with businesses to design programmes to help them grow and develop their talent.
“Sheffield Hallam has become an anchor institution for the region because of its fundamental work in changing the skills situation with an important role to play in its economic growth and health and with the opportunities we can help realise comes the economic progress we all want.
“That needs to happen in every area, with parts of South Yorkshire having high levels of deprivation and low levels of aspiration. So as we produce hundreds of teachers each year, we ask how we can convene all the schools and local authorities we work with in a common cause and raise the standards all round.
“We could just produce those teachers each year and leave it at that, but we have a bigger role to play in leading and co-ordinating the efforts of so many people and organisations. There is a civic responsibility and we are proud to rise to the challenge.”
The latent potential in the area and its young people is immense, and it takes a trained eye to spot it at every level, draw it out and then match it with opportunities. Moss and his team at the university are discovering this potential at every level, so that any business or student who makes an effort earns the right to help, mentoring and guidance.
One of the most exciting initiatives is South Yorkshire Futures, a university-led programme to improve the life chances of South Yorkshire’s young people by improving educational attainment and raising aspiration. It aims to build a shared vision for the role of education in improving social mobility in South Yorkshire, bringing a more joined-up approach and improved collaboration in three areas - preparation for the early years, performance at primary and secondary level and aspirations for those in further education, higher education and employment.
Examples of early priorities include providing a leadership and knowledge exchange resource for early years’ providers, developing a high quality teacher offer to improve local teacher recruitment and retention and improving progression into higher education or work. One example of this is SHU’s approach to working with school leavers who want to start a degree apprenticeship but need to find a suitable employer to become a degree apprentice.
“We will work across the whole spectrum to match young people with the best employment options,” Moss told me. “We will be identifying students from particular catchment areas with a high level of disadvantages and will work with kids who may have a deprived background and be in a university for the first time.
“They have the ability, but for a combination of reasons they may choose not to pursue the traditional university path but are attracted to getting a job and a qualification. We know from our experiences the level of work we need to do with them to get them through difficult interviews and assessments and keep their drive to find work. We need to bring those two halves together – student and employer – and that means also recognising that nobody wants an homogeneous group of new workers out in the market, they want individuality alongside the skills.
“The partners we work with like Morrisons are absolutely leading on this issue and want diversity in their staff with more than just academic ability. They want them to come from the communities they serve with the different experiences they bring from their own particular journeys.
“With that diversity of people and employers, the region as a whole is doing well with particular specialties in each of our cities including Leeds with its booming tech and financial scene, then here in Sheffield with high quality digital and manufacturing talent. It is part of our role to identify any pinch points as we project our growth forwards and make sure that talent pipeline is ready for the success that is coming.
“I think we all have a really interesting few years ahead of us, embedding a lot of what we have been doing.”
The anchor institutions across Yorkshire represent what the region stands for regionally, nationally and globally and how they conduct their business and the directions they decide to take affects us all.
For Conor Moss and Sheffield Hallam – as a key employer of some of the most innovative people in the region and a skills engine that is building up speed all the time – knowledge is their business and the region’s prospects are all the brighter for having them here.
Apprentice Quantity Surveyor, FME Solutions
I’m currently training as an apprentice quantity surveyor at FME Property Solutions, working regularly with a team of trained and student quantity surveyors, preparing quotes and shadowing numerous project managers on site visits.
Through doing this I have the opportunity to interact with clients and build up critical skills such as communication – something that can’t solely be built up in university. I believe this is crucial for my job as it’s important to deal with clients and suppliers on a daily basis.
I find that being an apprentice is a more engaging way to learn rather than studying full-time. By being an apprentice, you can see how what you are learning at university is applied in the real world. For me, this helps me to realise and remember how and why things work; aiding me when studying for my exams.
Apprenticeships were introduced to us during our first year at sixth form. As soon as we were told about the various options available to us, I knew an apprenticeship would suit me best. I’ve always felt that I learn best by doing rather than watching or listening; and an apprenticeship provides just this.
Because of the nature of my chosen career I think that hands-on experience is crucial, as with any other job in the construction industry. If I had chosen to study full-time at university, I feel that I would have gone into a new job with minimal experience, and so would stand out less than those who had been working in the profession for several years.
Apprenticeships also provide the opportunity to ‘earn while you learn’. This means that, unlike ordinary students that leave with several debts, apprentices can earn a wage whilst studying and have nothing to repay in the future. In addition to this, upon completion of your degree apprentices will hopefully graduate with a full-time job in the career that they want – this is the greatest benefit in my eyes.
In my case, by having five years’ experience upon graduating, I can apply to become a chartered surveyor. This is something that most QSs aspire to and means that I have the potential to earn considerably more. Those who choose to study full-time will have to work for a minimum of two years upon graduation to reach this status, and those who do not complete a degree in quantity surveying will never have the opportunity.
I feel that apprenticeships produce more competent professionals simply by having more experience in the field. This is crucial for the future of all industries and, more importantly, the future of my employer. By having competently trained staff, my employer is able to work to a high standard and continue to provide an excellent service.
To anyone considering becoming an apprentice I’d say make sure you are set on your career choice. I’ve learnt that experience is the most effective way of making this decision. By having practical first-hand experience, I find it’s much easier to identify whether you will enjoy and progress in your chosen career.
I also think it’s important that you find an employer that suits you. Unlike having an ordinary job, with degree apprenticeships you are tied into a contract for the duration of your degree. If you decide to leave your employer or the course, you will most likely have to pay back a portion of your degree. Fortunately for me, I found an employer that suits all my needs and that I enjoy working for.
HR Manager, L&P Springs
L&P Springs, a global bedding component company, is a key employer within the Sheffield City Region. Our partnership with various stakeholders across the region including Sheffield Hallam University, Enterprising Barnsley and Skills Made Easy, has enabled us to play a pivotal role in shaping our organisation and our people’s futures.
Enterprising Barnsley has supported L&P for over a decade, assisting with relocation, further expansion and development of our leadership and management team. More recently they have supported the organisation with our succession planning, including an introduction to Sheffield Hallam University, which has led to the upskilling of two existing staff and three new recruits via a Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, which started in October 2016.
We worked with the University’s Business School to develop a programme that aligned with our business objectives and allowed staff to move around various departments. The new recruits were sourced via Skills Made Easy, who made the process easy and took the hassle out of recruiting. They provided an all-round recruitment service, which included identifying eligible school leavers, filtering and prepping the candidates, providing advice and guidance and arranging interviews.
Degree apprenticeships are perceived by various managers across the organisation as an invaluable asset and they have generated some great feedback so far. We’ve noticed a great improvement already. Recent work undertaken by an apprentice has enabled us to create a more efficient and streamlined way of working by eliminating duplication – this kind of discovery is invaluable. All apprentices are given the time and support they need from L&P including a clear training path, opportunities for work shadowing, time off to study and an open door policy to talk through any issues that may arise. Apprenticeships are a great way of investing in your talent pipeline. My advice for any company would be to just go for it. Sheffield Hallam delivered a programme that met all our objectives and ensured we received maximum benefit right from the outset. We’d definitely do it again.
Director of Enterprise Services, Sky Betting & Gaming
We’ve had a presence in Sheffield for a few years now, enabling us to broaden our access to talent in Yorkshire and a relationship with Sheffield Hallam developed due to the proximity of our office to the campus and a number of joint projects.
Sheffield Hallam is a respected university for technology graduates and we’ve successfully worked with two interns on a placement year which proved mutually beneficial for the students and our business, it also fostered an appetite to develop our relationship with students even further.
We worked with Sheffield Hallam to develop our postgraduate Software Academy and we are hoping that an on-going partnership will cement our aim to be the best technology business in the UK and help us to retain and grow talent within the region, whilst providing us a sought after academy offering that appeals to a broad reach of candidates. The calibre of candidates we have access to means they bring fresh ideas and creative suggestions that can be implemented immediately. Students will be onsite learning while working in a commercial environment, which provides context and should therefore be more engaging, which will help them to learn more effectively.
Working with an established partner like Sheffield Hallam gives us a great commercial advantage to get access to the best talent before they get into the job market and help to shape the curriculum to narrow the gap between course material and technologies. As technologies evolve and change so quickly, it’s important to ensure course material reflects this, so students are properly prepared. It also provides a good platform to try and improve the diversity pool by making female students aware of the wide variety of technology roles that exist post-graduation. We also have access to the University’s academic resources, teachers, course materials, online learning support and infrastructure to lean on to support our students’ continued learning.
We can also partner with the university at national level to help them draw down funding and to shout about the great things that make Sheffield, and Yorkshire, a key destination for tech careers.
As a business, setting up a scheme like this takes careful planning and consideration. You need to be prepared to understand what outputs you want from the graduates. We have worked hard to identify which technologies are important to us and we worked with Hallam to agree what students need to obtain for their Master’s qualification. You have to make the material relevant to the business, so we had to consider how we structured the content so students can form a useful part of the team quickly.
I would encourage other businesses considering setting up a degree or Master’s level apprenticeship scheme to consider Sheffield Hallam as an academic partner. They are extremely proactive and pragmatic in terms of the approach to the partnership, there is a strong commercial sensibility and we worked highly collaboratively and in a timely manner.