Student spending supports over £80bn of UK economic output, according to research by the National Union of Students. This spending generates over £25bn of Gross Value Added and supports some 830,000 UK jobs.
This student economic activity is beneficial, certainly – yet it doesn’t provide the whole picture. Students in the UK benefit their local economy in more ways than just by opening their wallets.
To gain insight on how UK businesses can tap into this resource, we spoke with:
- Michael Barker, Chief Brand Officer at Garment Quarter
- Darren Hockley, MD at DeltaNet International
- Tom Jeffrey, Head of E-Commerce at Jules B
- James McDonagh, Director of EMEA at Frank Recruitment Group
What commercial benefits do students bring to the local economy?
As discussed above, the ‘student pound’ is a valuable asset to the UK economy at large as well as local businesses. This is certainly true at the independent fashion boutique, Garment Quarter.
“Bristol is a town with a thriving student population, and young people from all over the world come to study here. There are around 40,000 students living in the city, and we certainly see the benefit of this extra customer base,” says Michael.
Lots of the businesses we spoke with for this piece said they benefit from students taking on internships at their companies. “We’ve found that students already possess a lot of the qualities we’re looking for in our own workforce: dynamism, proactivity, enthusiasm, creativity etc. It’s an extra set of hands on deck, which is particularly useful if we have large-scale projects on the go and tight deadlines to meet,” Darren Hockley, MD at DeltaNet International.
At Jules B, Tom tells me, close links with the higher education sector has played an important role in the business model. Rhona Blades, co-owner and founder, was a Senior Lecturer in Fashion Design at Newcastle University before starting the company with her husband Julian.
“As a result, Rhona knew how essential it was to support new talent and give students an opportunity to gain valuable experience in the industry. Students are an essential part of how Jules B functions as a business. Throughout the year students contribute so much: essential support across different departments, valuable creative input and a fresh perspective,” says Tom.
Like internships, many of the businesses we spoke to highlighted how having high quality graduates nearby was clearly a benefit. “We opened our very first office here back in 2006—Newcastle is our home, so there’s definitely a sense of pride in our local talent, and a desire to give back to the area by supporting local students in their first steps towards rewarding professional lives. It’s a two-way street; they get our business knowledge and support, and we get their passion,” says James.
Having worked with many students before on internships and projects also offers businesses the chance to understand if they would be a good fit for a graduate job. “Many of our staff members have graduated from the university or are currently studying there. This has also benefitted us greatly, as we’ve been able to recruit dedicated, hardworking, and friendly staff from a young age. And, we’re very happy to have been able to give them all the opportunity to grow and reach their potential,” adds Michael.
Beyond the more structured realms of work placements, internships and graduate jobs, Michael tells me Garment Quarter has benefit from student collaborations. “There have been occasions when we’ve offered students modelling work and collaborated with them on fashion shows and photography campaigns. We have a mutually beneficial relationship that allows us to showcase fresh and local talent, while the students are able to gain more exposure for their work,” says Michael.
Darren explains how this has worked in practice at DeltaNet International: “Last summer we invited three students into the organisation for a three-month marketing internship, initially to support a large SEO project we were working on internally. The students were introduced to the concept of digital marketing and SEO strategy and, with guidance, made significant contributions to our website knowledge base. Working on topics as diverse as information security, Fire Safety, GDPR, and modern slavery, we couldn’t have completed the project without them – and certainly not in the amount of time we did.”
Innovation and energy
But while having access to a fresh pool of potential interns and graduates is clearly beneficial, James tells me that there is more to it than that.
“Students have the kind of enthusiasm we hold dear as a business, and to overlook that raw passion and readiness to learn would be a massive shame. Fresh graduates are ready to kick-start their careers, but still possess a learning mind-set and are generally more receptive to constructive criticism than more seasoned employees,” says James.
He continues, “That energy is something you can’t always replicate once an individual has solid experience in the working world. Their eagerness, ideas, and ever-growing skill sets have a positive effect on an organization’s bottom line too; graduates contribute approximately £1 billion to the UK economy each year.”
Inviting students into a business in any capacity – be that as a customer, intern or graduate – is a great way to gain fresh perspective.
“It is always important to engage with new ideas and young people are a great source of inspiration for this. They can also be extremely useful in terms of market research, if you are launching a product or service which targets the younger generation listen to what works for them,” says Tom.
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