August 3, 2016, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham

Managing Risk and Reaping the Rewards

Rob Johnson, an University of Nottingham alumni and CEO of Research Consulting Ltd, shares his employer’s eye view of working with Postgraduate Placements Nottingham. Research Consulting Ltd is an independent consultancy that serves a wide range of organisations involved in the delivery, dissemination and commercialisation of research.

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Rob Johnson

How did you get involved with offering placements to UoN postgraduates?

The main link is that I’m UoN alumni, having graduated with a BA in English Studies back in 2001, and I also worked at the University from 2009-2013. During my time at the University I was involved in the Ingenuity KnowledgeXchange breakfast club which brings developing small or medium-sized businesses together with academics who can offer advice and support in their specialist subject. So when I set-up my own business I was already aware of the placements scheme and its pool of high-quality graduates.

How has hosting placement students supported your business strategy?

Ultimately it was about building on success and expanding my business while managing the potential costs and risks involved with expansion. I was getting more work than I could handle but the business wasn’t yet in a position to hire additional permanent staff.  Taking on a placement student allowed me to avoid turning away work, increase revenues and develop the profile of the business. But perhaps most importantly it allowed me to design and test out working practices with a view to enlarging the staff in the longer term.

What was your pitch to attract postgrads to apply for your placement offer?

Getting involved with a new and rapidly growing business is always going to be an exciting opportunity I think. More specifically though I offered the successful candidate the chance to contribute to several nationally significant HE reports, opportunities to gain event management and public engagement experience, and involvement in developing a wide range of web-based materials and guidance relevant to open access publishing. So there was a broad range of work experience on offer I’d say.

Taking Mattia your first placement student as a case study; what made him stand out as a candidate?

As an individual Mattia particularly stood out in that he already had very credible real world experience including five years consulting experience with many of the types of organisations my business works with every day. He had a genuine interest in Open Access publishing, was obviously very self-motivated, and as a PhD he had the qualitative and quantitative research skills and publishing experience I was looking for.

Another big factor though was that he had actually researched my business and understood what we do. That probably sounds an odd thing to say but it’s actually surprisingly rare – too many students that apply for placements talk about how wonderful they are but don’t bother to really look into what they are applying for.

Did the project deliver what you had hoped for?

Definitely. I actually ended up taking on Mattia, my first placement, as an employee and will be taking on another placement student full-time in October. It’s a model that works well as the work we do is very specialised – with a long learning curve – so developing placement students allows me to deliver ‘on the job training’ at a reasonable cost while continually reviewing staff development and knowledge retention with a view to offering subsequent employment.

Basically the placement allowed me to take on a second member of staff at minimal risk to the organisation, which I would have found it very difficult to do otherwise.  And the project contributed significantly to a doubling of turnover in my business between its first and second years. So the placement programme was immensely helpful to me and my business, and the Graduate School team have been highly supportive throughout the process. I can’t recommend it highly enough, and hope further funding can be found to continue the scheme in future.


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