As industry struggles to find the skills base for many jobs, and graduates struggle to gain the experience for many posts, Emily Doyle reports that Knowledge Transfer Partnerships could provide one route through the impasse.
Demand for experienced personnel by the UK environmental industry is increasing. Unfortunately, this is met with ongoing shortages of skilled specialists and a lack of candidates with the right experience. Many employers still demand several years of work experience, even at the most junior levels. This means that new graduates find it difficult to secure their first related position within the environmental industry.
One way for graduates to gain their essential work experience is to take part in the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme.
Part-funded by the Government, KTP has operated successfully for nearly 30 years and supports companies seeking to develop new strategies, by introducing them to recent graduates who wish to manage challenging projects. Though using the graduates' skill sets, companies who have long desired comprehensive business change can increase profitability and become innovative market leaders.
KTP's success is achieved by the partnership of a company and a higher education institute. Each project lasts between one and three years and is based on carefully structured plans that aim to deliver strategic change, through placing a high quality graduate in the company concerned. The Associates are supported by academic organisations that have relevant expertise.
"The KTP Associate provided the company with a focus for research, development and innovation...we got clarity and things started to happen. Getting involved with KTP had the effect of broadening our horizons and I have no doubt it will help us enter new markets," says Hugh Stewart, Chairman of Caledonian Alloys Ltd
Caledonian Alloys, Europe's largest recycler of special alloys, sought to identify and implement means of reducing volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions within alloy de-greasing processes. The KTP Associate exceeded the ten per cent reduction target for VOC emissions, significantly reduced the environmental impact of the cleaning process and made considerable cost savings for the company.
Benefits enjoyed by companies vary considerably from case to case, given the variety of projects. However, recent information shows that, on average, the business benefits from an increase of over £220,000 in annual profits before tax, the creation of three genuine new jobs and an increase in the skills of existing staff. Put another way, for every £1 million of Government investment in Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, the benefits achieved by UK businesses amount to £3.3 million increase in annual profits before tax, the creation of 77 genuine new jobs and 263 company staff trained.
The graduate, who is supported by their academic institution, enhances their career prospects by benefiting from business based training and professional development. Associates need to work hard but the rewards are substantial and a competitive salary is earned.
As Cameron Fraser, KTP Associate for Caledonian Alloys Ltd, says, "What other programme would allow you to do a further degree and higher management award on company time, pay for your training and development, send you away on four weeks training modules and allow you time to be in university conducting your own research experiments? There can't be many other opportunities that compare."
Depending on the nature of the Project, a KTP Associate may be a graduate with a recent first degree, a Higher degree, a Higher National Certificate, Diploma (HNC/HND), National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) at Level Four, or a Foundation Degree.
The project enables the KTP Associate to manage demanding projects central to a company's strategic development and long-term growth. Over 50 per cent of Associates register for a higher degree during their project and over 70 per cent are offered employment by their host company on completion of the KTP. They are also encouraged to obtain an NVQ Level Four in Management and can do a MPhil or PhD during the scheme.
David Preskett worked in forestry for ten years before taking his first degree. He worked with C&C Oils to develop green bio-oil replacements for traditional mineral oils. David produced process and product risk assessments and product manufacturing protocols, in addition to undertaking extensive laboratory and field studies. Participation in this KTP allowed him to develop stong commercial skills, as well as a greater understanding of the chemical and physical properties of vegetable oils and their synthetic derivatives. At the end of the KTP, David was appointed Director of Biochem Wales Ltd, gained an NVQ Level Four in Management and had been funded by the EPSRC Industrial award for his current PhD in organic chemistry.
Other projects KTP Associates can encounter include designing and introducing new or improved products or processes, reorganising production facilities, introducing improved quality systems and technology, or developing and implementing marketing strategies to break into new markets.
At BFS 3663, UK's leading food service company, Associates Helen Crowther, an Urban and Environmental Studies graduate, and Kati Stoor, an Environmental Management graduate, developed an environmental management system throughout the organisation, with improvements to operations, products and packaging. Helen implemented ISO 14001 environmental standards and Kati took responsibility as Packaging Manager, co-ordinating the company's packaging optimisation and minimisation strategies.
"It was a tremendous achievement for the company to obtain ISO 14001 certification at all its locations - the first time it has been done in the food industry - and the Knowledge Transfer Partnership played a major role," says David Morgan, Director of Operations Services at 3663.
Both Associates gained membership to the Institute for Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) and an NVQ Level Four in Management, with Helen also gaining an MSc Environmental Management Systems and Kati an MA Environmental Packaging Management. Helen is now employed at 3663 and Kati works in waste and recycling for a county council.
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships offers places to UK graduates every year, across a broad range of industries. If you would like further information on KTP, visit the website www.ktponline.org.uk or call 0870 190 2829.