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Two key Careers & Enterprise developments to help SMEs

By: Careers, Employability & Enterprise
Date: May 2023Coloured dividing banner

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) account for a whopping 99.9% of businesses in the UK, yet many graduating students start their job searches with large, well-known business names. And with many SME business owners and recruiters amongst the ranks of our global alumni community, Durham's Careers & Enterprise Service has been developing new approaches and resources to aid with SME recruitment.

'Think Big, Choose Small' SME Careers Week

Building engagement with SMEs has always been important, especially given the recruitment challenges SMEs can face. Many graduates might not have considered smaller companies because they have not heard of them or don't know how to begin an SME job search. However, SMEs can offer excellent opportunities, with considerable benefits that might not be available at larger companies.

With this in mind, between Monday 13 - Friday 17 February 2023 Careers & Enterprise hosted its first ever Careers Week called 'Think Big, Choose Small', which focused specifically on SMEs. Highlighting the range of SME employers, the Employer Services Team shone a spotlight on local and regional businesses of varying sizes from a diverse spread of industries, welcoming them to host stands at an in-person careers fair, network with graduating students, and showcase the breadth of work experience and graduate opportunities available. Connecting SMEs with potential job applicants not only raised awareness of alternative pathways, but also offered SMEs the opportunity to work with the Employer Services Team and benefit from their expertise.

In parallel, the team also held events and networking sessions tailored to SME employers, to outline and discuss services available from Careers & Enterprise which would assist SME recruitment. The cherry on top was the launch of an SME Information Hub to provide a one-stop-shop for SME recruitment advice and guidance (more on this below).

"I didn't know there were so many businesses"

From a graduating student perspective, the SME Careers Week had a key aim of education and broadening job search horizons (and directly benefiting SMEs as a result). Events kicked off with an introduction hosted by Careers Advisor, Stephen Nash, who covered the basics of working at an SME.

Attendees heard insights and advice from recent graduates who had worked at an SME, while a further session explored how to navigate the Hidden Job Market and make speculative applications - a key skill for approaching SMEs that are not actively recruiting. A series of recruiter sessions and mock interviews gave insights into what employers are looking for from a candidate.

Putting the skills and knowledge gained into practice, the highlight of the week was the ‘Think Big Choose Small’ SME Careers Fair, where participants had the opportunity to network with 24 SME employers from a range of sectors.

The fair received very positive feedback. One attendee commented: "There was a very wide array of careers, and info provided at each stall was helpful. It has given me a better understanding of some of the career paths I am interested in."

Mneka Ikuii, computer science student, found the experience very informative and said: "I didn’t know there were so many businesses, especially in tech, which I’m interested in, just around Durham and [who are] interested in students who are looking for placements."

The benefits of the fair were clear to SME employers too. Omar Lingeman from Jumpstart, an SME that challenges the traditional job-hunting process by having start-ups pitch their roles to potential candidates, commented: "Ultimately, SMEs are the bedrock of the UK economy, so having them highlighted here is really important."

Overall, the week was well attended, with more than 170 attendees engaging with events run. The 'Think Big, Choose Small' SME Careers Week was a new focus for the Careers & Enterprise team, and successfully promoted SME awareness and engagement on campus, helping to broaden job search horizons beyond more traditional job opportunities and companies.

SME Information Hub launch

Beyond the events of the Careers Week, a second key development was the launch of the SME Information Hub. The Hub was developed to aid SMEs with their recruitment efforts. It covers topics such as funding opportunities, considerations before offering a new position or work experience, and writing vacancy descriptions that attract applications from recent graduates and graduating students, as well as relevant topics for post-recruitment, like the induction process.

Graphic promoting the SME information hub

The Hub also introduces the Employer Services Team within Careers & Enterprise and highlights how businesses can engage with graduating students through different types of events. This is an ongoing project, aiming to include further topics in future to prepare SME employers better for graduate recruitment.

To accompany the launch of the Hub, two networking sessions specifically for SME employers were held as part of the SME Careers Week. Durham's Employer Services Team met businesses at Orbit, NetPark, to show employers how they can engage and recruit the University's talented graduating students. They presented the free vacancy advertising service that businesses can utilise, ways to enhance the marketing of available positions, and the types of work opportunities that a business can offer. A similar event was held virtually.

These events gave employers an opportunity to engage directly with our Careers & Enterprise service and ask any questions they might have, further consolidating our engagement with SMEs both locally and nationally.

Employer Services Manager Laura Smith presenting to SME employers

As the team continues to build up resources for and increase interactions with SMEs, it is important to remember why they matter. Sing Wai Cheung, Placement Year Assistant within Careers & Enterprise, said:

“The crucial things to remember are the benefits that this will have for graduating students and SME employers alike. We in Careers & Enterprise want to improve awareness of options available to students as they embark on their job searches, and also to support our growing SME business network as they seek to recruit the best talent.

“SMEs have unique benefits and can often help graduates gain distinctive perspectives on their career paths. It is an option too valuable to be missed.”

Get in touch

To find out more about the Employer Services Team and how you could work together to benefit your business, enquire about the SME Information Hub or have a more general query, please contact Employer Services Manager Laura Smith.

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Watch the Support for SMEs video for an overview of the 'Think Big, Choose Small' SME Careers Fair held in February 2023 and to discover employer and attendee thoughts on services offered by the Employer Services Team.

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