Universities and small businesses team up to boost graduate employment

A new initiative announced today Monday 6 May will see universities and business organisations in Scotland team up to support and encourage graduate employability in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

Universities Scotland, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland, student organisations and others will work together on a joint campaign which will promote SMEs as a positive career destination to graduates as well as promoting to businesses the added value that graduates can bring to SMEs.

The initiative is one of 22 recommendations in a report, Taking Pride in the Job, published by Universities Scotland. The report responds to the Scottish Government’s call for an “all Scotland” approach to youth unemployment and follows a year-long programme of engagement with businesses, students and others.

University engagement with SMEs was made the centre of one of eight chapters in the report as SMEs are central to Scotland’s economy. Consultation with stakeholders during the report’s development uncovered real and perceived barriers that could be preventing higher levels of graduate employment within SMEs. The report finds that there are opportunities for SMEs and graduates which are not yet fully realised. Unlocking these opportunities will develop the ability for graduates to make an impact at SMEs and SMEs’ ability to gain from graduates’ subject specific skills and transferrable attributes. SMEs are responsible for 54 per cent of Scotland’s private sector employment, so it is important that these opportunities are made clear to both parties – particularly at a time when the labour market is challenging for young people and small businesses alike. In response, Universities Scotland will work with the representative bodies of small and medium sized businesses, students and university careers staff to develop a campaign focussed at both current students and SMEs with a view to encouraging greater levels of graduate recruitment by SMEs.

Universities Scotland’s Convener, Professor Pete Downes said:


“Universities are proud to develop talented and motivated graduates who have confidence in themselves and in their ability to forge a successful and rewarding career – whatever shape that takes. We are committed to supporting every graduate to achieve this.

“Small businesses are a key part of Scotland’s economy and can offer graduates so much in the way of diverse opportunities and hands-on experience, particularly as employment in this sector means working closely with established and successful entrepreneurs. Employing graduates is important for these companies to succeed by being more innovative and adaptable. Small businesses are the lifeblood of Scotland’s economy and to continue to thrive they will need to refresh their talent with highly motivated and highly skilled university graduates.”


Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, commented:


“In Scotland, we are rightly proud of our diverse and high performing university sector. There are many existing examples of productive collaboration between business and universities in knowledge transfer, and innovation. Focussing on employability within universities provides a truly valuable opportunity to both deepen and broaden the engagement between our universities and the business community, which will benefit the Scottish economy and support business growth.

“Scottish Chambers of Commerce therefore welcome this report, particularly the recognition by our universities of the vital role of SMEs. We look forward to working with Universities Scotland and the Higher Education sector to strengthen the engagement between the sector and the business community, building on the many excellent relationships that the sector enjoys with Chambers of Commerce and the business community across Scotland.”


The report contains 22 recommendations to further support graduate employability, most of which are for universities themselves to take forward. The report also shares a further 21 actions and initiatives, considered to be good practice, that are already in place at many universities across Scotland. Other recommendations include:

  • Exploration of how universities encourage greater levels of graduate entrepreneurship. In continuing to develop an institutional culture of enterprise, universities should consider how to increase cross-overs between their enterprising research and knowledge exchange activity and teaching, ensuring that students have the opportunity to learn from and be inspired by this activity.
  • A role for student associations in encouraging student take-up of university careers services from the first year of study. Such services are available and advertised to students from enrolment onwards but a survey in Scotland found fewer than ten per cent of students using careers services were first-years.
  • Work placements offered to students should be paid or credit bearing as part of a degree programme. Not all placements can be made available on a paid basis, particularly if we are to encourage further growth in the number of placements available. However, unpaid work placements create inequalities in terms of which students can access them. This can be reconciled if work placements offered by universities become credit-bearing as part of a degree or paid.

Taking Pride in the Job also looks at how Scotland’s universities have universally embedded employability as well as issues around the availability of work placements, university careers services, global skills and the delivery of enterprise and entrepreneurship within universities. Universities Scotland will be working with Scotland’s 19 universities to take forward the recommendations.

Minister for Youth Employment, Angela Constance said:


“Graduates often suffer from the same difficulties as school leavers and young people finishing college courses. As they often lack hands on work experience, they are not always the first choice for employers, particularly in times of economic difficulty. I am very pleased that Universities Scotland has answered the Scottish Government’s call for a fresh focus on youth employment and their work with the business world will not only help open up more employment opportunities for graduates, but also allow our SMEs better access to an incredibly enthusiastic pool of young talent.”


Graduate employment remains high in Scotland, despite real challenges in the job market which have taken the biggest toll on young people under 25 years of age. 93% of graduates from Scotland’s universities are in positive destinations within six months of graduating; the highest proportion anywhere in the UK. However, universities are not complacent and take the view that any unemployment is a waste of talent. Taking Pride in the Job represents a commitment on behalf of all of Scotland’s universities to do all they can to ensure students have every opportunity whilst at university to acquire the right mix of subject knowledge, skills and experience to enter the jobs market in the strongest possible position.

Employability has been a priority focus at Scotland’s universities for many years, with every one of Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions committed to it at strategic level in contrast to universities in the rest of the UK and Europe [1].



University of Glasgow Graduate Peter Rowan undertook a three-month internship at a Scottish SME, Micro Technology Consultants (MTC) through the Club 21/Santander Internship Opportunity.

Jim Magill, Partner, Micro Technology Consultants (MTC) said:

“MTC has a long association with Glasgow University and is delighted to be able to introduce graduates to a range of commercial engineering projects, giving them the opportunity to apply the knowledge they’ve gained during their studies and to further develop their skills.”

Graduate, Peter Rowan said the opportunity “proved to be incredibly beneficial to both my personal and professional development and provided an excellent opportunity to gain some valuable experience in industry”. Peter said:

“I found working at a smaller organisation had many advantages. The most immediately apparent of these was that the small work force ensured a very friendly atmosphere, which immediately helped me to feel comfortable in my new role at the company. It also meant working more directly with both senior engineers as well as the company management, which provided a unique insight into the practicalities of how a business is structured and run. Additionally it felt like I had more influence as to the direction certain projects would take compared to if I had been at a larger company. During the internship I got the opportunity to work on several different projects, which exposed me to a breadth of different challenges. This allowed me to draw upon the wide range of skills developed whilst at university and to learn some that were entirely new. It also helped to give me a good understanding of the range of work that is undertaken by MTC and a better appreciation for the company.”

For more information about Club 21 please visit:



  1. See page 44 of the report. This is taken from a 2011 BIS report called Supporting Graduate Employability: HEI Practice in other countries.
  2. You can find the report on the Universities Scotland website here.