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Driving SME Engagement

Durham inspires      
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Our Careers & Enterprise team works with employers from a diverse range of industries and welcomed many of them to its recent Careers Week.

Building engagement with Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) has always been important, especially given the challenges that SMEs can face with student recruitment. Many students might not have considered smaller companies because they have not heard of them or are unaware of how to begin an SME job search. However, SMEs can offer excellent opportunities, with many considerable benefits that might not be available at a larger company.

To highlight these opportunities, Careers & Enterprise held the ‘Think Big, Choose Small’ SME Careers Week from 13 -17 February, with a range of local and regional SMEs showcasing the breadth of work experience and graduate opportunities available. The team also held events and networking sessions targeting SME employers who might recruit from the University and launched an SME Information Hub to help with that recruitment.

Helping students explore alternative opportunities

The SME Careers Week kicked off with an introduction hosted by our Careers Advisor, Stephen Nash, who introduced students to the basics of working at an SME.

Students heard insights and advice from recent graduates who had worked at an SME, while a careers essentials 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 students 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 SME Careers Fair, where students had the opportunity to network with 24 SME employers from a range of sectors.

Students who attended the fair gave very positive feedback. One 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, a computer science student who attended the fair, 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 is from Jumpstart, a SME that challenges the traditional job-hunting process by having start-ups pitch their roles to potential candidates. Omar commented: “Ultimately, SMEs are the bedrock of the UK economy, so having them highlighted here is important.”

Overall, the week was well attended by students, with more than 170 students engaging with the events. This new Career Focus Week was a great step in promoting SME awareness and engagement on campus, and helping students discover more options beyond traditional job opportunities.

Employer Engagement: Launching the SME Information Hub

Beyond the focus on student events, another highlight of the week was the launch of the SME Information Hub aimed at employers. 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 up a vacancy description that is attractive to students, as well as relevant topics for post-recruitment, like the induction process.

The Hub also introduces the Employer Services Team and highlights how businesses can engage with students through different types of events. This is an ongoing project, aiming to include further topics in future to better prepare SME employers for student recruitment, which will, in turn, increase student satisfaction.

Screenshot of the newly launched SME Information Hub
Screenshot of the newly launched SME Information Hub

To accompany the launch of the Hub, two SME employer networking sessions were held during SME Careers Week. The team met businesses at Orbit, NetPark, to show employers how they can engage and recruit our talented students. They presented the free vacancy advertising service that businesses can utilise, ways to further market their positions to students, 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 team and ask any questions they might have, further consolidating our engagement with SMEs both locally and nationally.

Employer Services Manager Laura Smith
Employer Services Manager Laura Smith

As the team continues to build up resources for and interactions with SMEs, it is important to remember why they matter. Sing Wai Cheung, Placement Year Assistant at Careers & Enterprise, who has been working on this SME Project as part of his role, said:

“The crucial things to remember are the benefits that this will have for students. We want to better inform students of the options available to them beyond big employers and to support them in finding the best option for them.

“SMEs have unique benefits and can often help students gain distinctive perspectives on their career paths. It is an option too valuable to be missed. I have certainly learned a lot about the benefits of working at an SME whilst undertaking this project myself!”

Find out more

  • Visit the SME Information Hub.
  • If you’re working with any SMEs or have any contacts, please do signpost them to the Hub.
  • For any further questions or more information on how to recruit Durham students, contact our Employer Services Manager, Laura Smith.



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