Preparing tomorrow’s leaders – an industry led panel to discuss the role that university’s should play in preparing graduates for the workplace

This joint event between NIBE, Newcastle Business School and Business in the Community acted to draw the first day’s business at the  PRME conference to a close and herald a focus on opportunity on day two.

The session began with an inspirational presentation from Jon Khoo: Innovation Partner at Interface Inc.  He spoke about the journey that Interface Inc went on to be the world’s 3rd most sustainable business.  How they looked at every aspect of their product, from how it was manufactured, what if was manufactured from, the effect on the environment, the community at the start of the product chain and beyond.  Jon’s enthusiasm for the innovative way the company works was infectious and the ‘plucky little floor tile company that thinks big’ summed it up perfectly.

This lead into the panel session which moderator Caroline Theobald started by asking each of the panellists to answer three questions based around their respected businesses, what they look for when recruiting graduates and a success story.  She asked what they were each doing to inspire graduate employees to ‘brighten a corner’ in their businesses.

Alix Cornforth, Quorn Foods, started off with an outline of the company and its expansion plans, reminding the audience of quorn as a sustainable food source.  Alix’s main tip for graduates was they should have an awareness of what’s going on in the world and a passion for what they want to do.

Angela Lockwood, North Star Housing, disused how recession and austerity had prompted the organisation to change its culture to one of trust and empowerment.  This step change in organisational culture has encouraged employees to discuss ideas, which has led to innovation throughout the organisation.  Her mission was to raise awareness of North Star Housing as a viable employment choice for graduates wanting to make a difference.

Louise Hunter, Northumbrian Water, explained how the company takes the whole water process from water collection, clean water provision, waste disposal and how waste gets turned into power to feed into the national grid. NWL work with students on special projects across the company on real time initiatives.  Louise’s success story was the amount of investment the company makes in its managers to produce authentic leaders, which has changed the company for the better.

The main question of the evening was how can the universities educate students so that they have the skills business and companies need.  It was felt that businesses should work with universities more closely on a range of partnership initiatives such as knowledge transfer, student placements and projects.  They should both work with a sense of purpose and values to produce leaders who don’t have all the answers but are willing to work with others to problem solve, innovate and help find solutions.  When looking for employment students should look to their own values and find a company with the best fit. Go behind the ‘glossy’ statements and try and find out as much as they can about the organisation.   A close look should be taken at university leadership programmes and how they are preparing students for their future roles in society.

Ruth Warwick.