Ian Pierson is Placement Co-Ordinator (Business, Management and Economics (Professional Services))
I was very pleased to have recently presented at the ASET Annual Conference with my colleague, Joanna Budd, at the University of Exeter. ASET is the Work Based and Placement Learning Association of the UK and one of the key organisations I turn to in my role as Business Liaison Manager for the School of Business, Management and Economics (BMEc) at the University of Sussex. This year the conference attracted approximately 200 representatives coming from Universities throughout the UK, Ireland and Canada.
The theme of the conference this year was Positive Placement Partnerships, so I was excited to share the Catalyst Scheme to my colleagues from other Universities, particularly as Catalyst is such a unique model that very few other institutions are using. My excitement at delivering my first ever workshop at ASET was fuelled even further after attending my personal highlight of the conference on day 2: the Question Time-esque Employer Panel. This was our chance to ask a panel of 7 employers, mainly consisting of local SMEs, anything we wanted. The overriding conclusion form this Q&A was that small business owners want to tap into placement students but are reluctant to do so due to a number of factors - including the recruitment process, time to manage and train, lack of office space, payroll consideration and requirement to purchase additional equipment. This was music to my ears as in less than 24 hours time I would be introducing a scheme that provides a solution to many of the above factors: the Catalyst Scheme.
The final day of the ASET Conference 2015 had arrived which meant it was presentation day for Joanna and I. Despite the Gala Dinner (with copious amounts of wine!) being held the previous evening, 20 delegates attended our workshop, including representatives from the Universities of Kent, Warwick, Exeter and Ravensbourne. I was proud to share my involvement and experiences of the Catalyst Scheme from a University-perspective. I spoke about my involvement in the evolution of the Scheme from the early days, including promoting the scheme to prospective placement students even though, in all honesty, I was as confused as some of the students as to what the Scheme actually entailed! Thankfully, clarity and further detail were made available by the appointment of a Catalyst Project Manager.
Indeed, I went on to discuss how crucial I felt my positive working relationship with Lucy Paine, Catalyst Project Manager, was key in helping me to support and advise BMEc students in the recruitment process for the Catalsyt team, as well as helping me to establish an effective cross-referral process with Lucy. With 4 BMEc placement students successfully securing a placement in the catalyst team, and therefore accounting for the majority of the team in the first year, I spoke in the session about how I was closely involved in the Scheme throughout the first year of operation, including attending Catalyst Training days in London and Brighton, where I saw a huge transformation in the students both professionally and personally from when I initially started working with them at the beginning of the placement process. These keen students with lots of raw talent had suddenly turned into very polished professionals working on high-level projects within the space of a year!
As well as sharing my experiences, I wanted to create an open discussion with attendees to find out how they engaged with SMEs and start-ups. Interestingly, the majority of delegates in the room came from institutions that DO have an Innovation Centre but they DO NOT engage with them at all – the workshop therefore provided them with a glimpse into the huge potential open to their institutions.
Feedback during and after the session was incredibly positive, many commented how impressed they were with how the Catalyst Scheme provided students with a unique placement year experience, as well as a risk free and flexible solution for companies. Already we have received follow-up requests from attendees to speak to Lucy Paine to discuss ways in which this Scheme may be expanded into their institutions. With the huge number of SMEs in the UK and throughout the EU (over 20m in the EU!), the potential for the Catalyst Scheme is very exciting so watch this space…