Set a learning challenge and find your next idea.
How to catch the next wave of talent
For smaller companies wrestling with a challenge, help is coming from an unexpectedly enthusiastic source. The next generation of talent at universities.
Reservations might once have existed on both sides. Why would bright young minds bother with small operators when they had a shot at the big time? Why would a nimble enterprise bog itself down in theory and peer review?
All those prejudices are disappearing fast. In return for their fees, students are looking for real-life experience to test themselves out and gain commercial skills. For smaller companies, it means gaining access to up-and-coming talent at low cost on flexible terms. So how it might it work?
- You could set a competition as part of the curriculum and award a prize. In return for perhaps £1000 and a share in any intellectual property, you might have 20 ideas for new products from which to choose, all designed to industry standard.
- At even lower cost, you could bring in a student consultant, who will work on your challenge as part of their qualification under academic supervision. So, instead of having to commission your own software, for instance, you will develop a standard platform that can be easily maintained.
- To solve more day-to-day problems like bringing your social media up to speed, you could bring in a student on a short-term placement of 4-12 weeks.
- Or you could ask someone to work for you part-time, perhaps coming in two afternoons a week to translate your web site into Chinese and handle any queries. Most students are free to work up to 20 hours a week during term.
Originally, only a few departments worked in this way. Design schools favoured competitions. Computer scientists encouraged student consultants. Now most university departments are getting involved, particularly business programmes such as marketing, finance and the law. If you talk to the careers offices, you will find them ready to take up your query, place notices and suggest candidates, often for free.
The question remains whether you can position yourself as somewhere a student might want to work. As well as commercial experience, they will often be looking to support their learning and qualification. So you will have to work with the university to set an academically interesting challenge, particularly if you are looking to run programmes at a subsidized cost.
You also want to put yourself forward as an innovative venture in which students will find themselves close to the action with access to those who are making the decisions. For many students, it represents a better option than being forgotten in a back room at a corporate HQ.
If all goes well, you might end up taking on the student on full time and finding your future director of technology.