The potential for collaboration between Universities and SMEs has never been greater.

Tue 17th, Mar

There are still a lot of misconceptions regarding the North West region, graduates and how Universities can support local businesses.  Let’s try and separate the facts from the fiction…

“The economy is rubbish and there aren’t any jobs out there”

The North West is the fastest growing region outside of London at the end of last year, and over half of North West companies are looking to grow their workforce over the next 12 months - specifically with graduates and young people.

 “Only big companies recruit graduates”

Quite the opposite! Over two thirds of UK graduate jobs are with SMEs which demonstrates how important small businesses are to the UK economy.

 “Graduates don’t want to stay here and work for a small company like mine”

Outside of London, the North West retains more graduates than any other region in the UK and 87% of graduates are more than willing to start their career within a SME.

There’s always a “but” though isn’t there?”

Okay, you’ve got me. There’s still the issue of 60% of SMEs finding it a challenge to recruit new employees straight from University.

“So what’s being done about it?”

The University of Liverpool’s Graduate to Merseyside service provides direct support, guidance and a platform for SMEs to promote their opportunities and recruit graduates from the local Universities and those returning home after studying elsewhere. In fact, they’ve placed over 600 graduates across Merseyside!

 “That’s great, but once they’re trained up they’ll just leave”

Not in our experience! Your investment in a graduate can have real long term benefits to your company. In no time at all, your ‘Graduate Trainee’ is your new ‘Marketing Manager’ or ‘Procurement Consultant’ and an integral part of your business.

“Great so what’s the future like?”

With around 400,000 SMEs across the North West, a growing economy and record numbers of students going to University and staying in the region, the potential for collaboration between Universities and SMEs has never been greater.

Take a look at the some of the successful SMEs that have recruited graduates through Graduate to Merseyside.

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People not in support of IFB 2016 are in danger of missing out

Mon 16th, Mar

The question above was often put to someone I know. She started her career in HR as a personnel officer at British Coal in the days when we had both of those things.

The question was posed by the colliery manager, usually in response to a well-argued case for this or that innovation which would improve morale among the workforce.

The problem, of course, was that it was usually impossible to say how many extra tonnes would be added to the mine’s productivity as a result. Business marketing events are a bit like that. You can’t be sure exactly what you’re going to get out of them, but you can be sure that not taking part will produce nothing at all.

So, I totally understand when people are asked about the International Festival for Business 2016 and respond with a question similar to the one at the top of the page. I just think they’re in danger of missing out.

We should grasp the opportunities created by bringing thousands of business people to Liverpool. Apart from anything else, it saves us the time and money of going out to find them.

It’s not just me saying this. Here’s how Ian Jones, Managing Director of Warrant Group, the global supply chain provider, describes his company’s participation in IFB 2014:

“Extremely beneficial, opening up dialogue with potential new customers.”

IFB 2016 will be concentrated into three weeks, shorter than last year’s inaugural event. We see that as a positive change and it also shows that the organisers have listened to criticism.

We anticipate making a very positive contribution to IFB 2016, alongside our partners Liverpool Vision and UK Trade & Investment.

The Chamber’s main event last year – The Power of the Chamber Global Network – which we staged in conjunction with the British Chambers of Commerce, was a truly international gathering, with representatives from more than 40 countries taking part, representative of British Chambers of  Commerce and the World Chambers Congress.

Exporting is a key part of our core business and we know that it helps companies to grow. And even if you don’t or can’t export, you will benefit from meeting businesses that do.  The ‘Meet your Global Network’ event will be back by popular demand, even bigger and better, and we will be repeating our ‘Get Fit for IFB’ programme of events too.

So mark June 13 to July 1, 2016 in your diaries and practice your elevator pitch. It will be worth it.

Full details of the event will be announced a year out at the World Chambers Congress in Turin on June 12 2015.

Download the IFB 2016 brochure to see how your business can get involved

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Digital Marketing is now an accessible tool for all but there must be a strategy

Tue 10th, Mar

As we emerge blinking from the recession, the world seems full of opportunities. Businesses are beginning to invest again. Consumers are feeling more confident and even the banks have stopped pretending we don’t exist.

It is also possible, really for the first time ever, for small business owners to market their products and services without spending any money. Social media and email marketing are both effective ways to attract potential customers to your website and apps such as Hootsuite and Mail Chimp are free to use and deliver professional results.

I recently delivered a Tech Tuesday seminar at the Liverpool Chamber in which I discussed some of the tools we use to grow our client’s businesses.

These included:

Marketing Grader from Hubspot which will provide you with a free assessment and plan to improve your online marketing.

www.marketing.grader.com

Adespresso which will help you manage Facebook advertising campaigns.

www.adespresso.com

Leadpages which are easy to create single page websites, called landing pages, which significantly improve conversion from online advertising.

www.leadpages.com

AgileCRM which will enable you to set up sophisticated email and text sequences to follow up new business leads.

www.agilecrm.com

LoyalBlocks which is an automated mobile loyalty program for retail and hospitality businesses.

www.loyalblocks.com

So how does a marketing consultancy expect to prosper in an environment when so much help is available online?

Firstly, even free marketing technology is actually relatively complex and small business owners really appreciate someone taking the time to guide them. A few pro tips can save hours of frustration.

Last year the Tech Tuesday seminars helped hundreds of business owners to take advantage of social media, email marketing and the mobile web.

Secondly, tools alone will not deliver effective results. A clear strategy is essential to put marketing in context and allow it to be measured and therefore improved.

Thirdly, once small business owners experience success with marketing they are able to develop an investment model enabling them to profit from automation and professional help.

We are launching a free webinar series to help small business owners successful plan their marketing, attract new leads, convert prospects and maximise lifetime customer value.

If you would like an invite please go to www.felixclarke.com/events.

Check out more events being held this 'Digi-March'

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Businesses play an important role in inspiring the next generation

Mon 09th, Mar

Delivering the next generation of supply chain expertise

“Once you’ve got your foot in the door, so many career opportunities open up and it’s great hands-on experience.” Those are the words of first year International Freight and Logistics Apprentice, Jake Rushton, who joined us last October and has been learning all about customs procedures and hazardous cargo.

At Warrant Group we’re really proud to support young people starting their careers through the apprenticeship route – it mirrors my own beginnings as a YTS trainee back in 1986. Fast-forward 23 years and I became Managing Director and owner of Warrant Group, a role which continues to be rewarding and challenging.

Learning in the workplace is an excellent way to get a practical feel for a business, and in our sector, it gives individuals the opportunity to build up a detailed knowledge and understanding of the sector’s complex requirements.

At the moment, we have three apprentices working alongside our teams learning about international trade and logistics. One of our past apprentices has moved into a management role while another has relocated from operations to finance and is now studying for professional qualifications through the Association of Accounting Technicians.

As well as supporting apprentices, we’re also helping all members of staff make the most of professional development opportunities and fulfill their potential.

As a business Warrant Group has built up a reputation for delivering a ‘solutions based approach’ combining expertise and competitive pricing with a strong customer-focused approach. This ethos is an essential part of the business and it’s great to share this knowledge and passion.

With more than 55 members of staff at Warrant Group from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds, we have some fantastic role models and work hard to create an environment where ideas and experiences can be exchanged. Many of our senior team are members of leading industry organisations with experience of working on complex, country-to-country supply chain combinations.

Sharing this expertise, providing support for professional development and ultimately inspiring the next generation to be the innovators of the future is a great way to reward individuals and support the community around us.

And, with the Government’s drive to encourage UK businesses to explore new markets overseas, there has never been a better time to begin an apprenticeship in logistics and supply chain management.

Ian Jones is the Managing Director of Warrant Group which is one of the largest privately owned supply chain management companies in the UK.

Could you hire the next Ian Jones? Speak to the Chamber about recruiting an apprentice today

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Gone are the days where Marketing is solely used to attract clients. We now need it to attract staff with the right skills.

Posted by Caroline Kingsley

Director of Kingsley Associates

  • T: 0151 242 1630
Fri 06th, Mar

During 2014, the UK saw job increases in 41 key sectors, but as the economy recovers, a new battle is waging over talent.

With around 90% of firms looking to recruit this year, employers need to not only market their business to attract clients, they also need to apply similar methodologies to recruiting the right candidates.

Long gone are the 1980’s style interviews, where candidates were made to feel as though they were being interrogated. Companies need to offer enticing benefits, family friendly policies, clear paths for progression and opportunities to train and develop.

This can be a challenge for some small business, but by adopting marketing tactics usually aimed at attracting customers, business owners can look at their USPs, and use a lack of corporate identity to their advantage.

A lack of corporate identity is appealing to many candidates, particularly those who have been in the rat-race for a number of years and are looking to get out.  Smaller businesses are sometimes able to provide more flexible working hours. Deciding upon the location of a business is always a challenge. Therefore, anyone setting up a business needs to think very carefully about the demographic of their workforce.  Being out on a business park could be cheap, but if there are no nearby rail and bus links, your future employees, particularly at the lower end of the market,  are unlikely to be able to get to work.

The recession has left a distinct lack of skilled candidates being available. Those who graduated in 2008 – 2011 struggled to secure roles within their chosen field, which led to many not even entering the sector in which they studied. Highly skilled candidates with four years plus experience are highly sort after, which can make them unaffordable for small businesses. By embracing Apprenticeships, smaller businesses can help plug the skills gap in the future.

Unfortunately, gender, age and race are still very real barriers of entry to working for some people, but those employers who are embracing a diverse workforce will be the ones who succeed in the long term. 

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Apprentices are crucial to create jobs and expand businesses

Mon 02nd, Mar

We’ve just had the welcome news that unemployment fell again in the last quarter of 2014.

But the silver lining has a cloud. If you are aged 18 to 24, your chance of being out of work remains unchanged at about one in six.

The problem is not unique to the UK. In fact, things are a lot worse in several of our European neighbours.

Getting young people into jobs seems to be a problem for most western economies. At the Chamber, we have concrete evidence to back this up: there are 65 jobs available on our apprenticeship scheme but are short of candidates to apply for them.

In the last twelve months, we’ve placed apprentices at more than 160 companies in a wide variety of sectors. It’s a proven way for young people to find out what type of job they want to do and to get on the career ladder.

At the Chamber, we pay above the apprenticeship minimum wage and encourage our companies to do the same. But still demand still outstrips supply, even though the statistics* show that apprentices are more likely to be in employment for longer and that they get paid 11 per cent more than their peers at intermediate level and 18 per cent more at advanced level.

Business owners are quite outspoken when they’re asked what they want in young recruits: punctuality, literacy and numeracy skills, and a willingness to do as they are told are usually top of a fairly predictable list.

What they are often not so good at is articulating what they can offer people who step onto the lowest rung of their organisation.

We can all remember what it was like to be a teenager. But we forget how fast things change. Anyone who is now over 40 started work in a different era – economically, technologically and socially.

The young are more aware of this, and that makes it highly unlikely that they will take much notice of any careers advice we give them.

It’s no wonder that it can be difficult for employers and young jobseekers to communicate effectively. Difficult, but not impossible.

The best placements are those where apprentices can see the contribution they make to an organisation. That enhanced perception of their own worth is as valuable as any skill they will learn by doing the job they are entrusted with.

We want to raise the profile of apprentices, so if you are one, or you employ one, tell us your experiences by leaving a comment below.

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Legislation to ensure SME engagement in public sector procurement is a start but fundamental barriers remain

Posted by Paul Cherpeau

Chief Executive

Fri 27th, Feb

On Wednesday I attended a roundtable session with Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office concerning new legislation aimed at making public sector procurement easier and more accessible to SMEs.

 

Hosted by the Crown Commercial Service in Liverpool, the roundtable focussed on central government efforts to award 25% of procurement spend by value with SMEs, directly or via supply chain, in 2015. The new legislation will:

  • Ensure all public bodies are publicly accountable for paying suppliers and their sub-contractors within 30 days
  • Abolish Pre-Qualification Questionnaires for low value contracts, simplifying and quickening the bidding process
  • Ensure all public sector contracts above £25,000  (£10,000 for central government) are posted on the government’s contracts finder website (www.gov.uk/contracts-finder)

 

Public sector procurement has long been a bug bear for many of our members with a lack of transparency, communication combined with excessive administrative burdens resulting in SMEs being unable to do business with government and the wider private sector.

 

The new legislation is undoubtedly a step in the right direction but must act only as a starting point for a wider overhaul of how contracts in the entire public sector are advertised, awarded and subsequently managed. Local authorities are under pressure to abide to the Social Value Act and it will be interesting to see the extent to which they adopt the “single set of principles” that central government have embraced and legislated for.

 

Culture is a key watchword within any organisation and it’s fair to say that organisational culture within public sector procurement is powerful and entrenched. Instigating changes in mindset within such teams is undoubtedly difficult to achieve, particularly in these times of austerity, and it must be acknowledged that improvements have already been made in the operations of some local authorities including our own.

 

Access to procurement opportunities cannot simply been solved by a software-based solution. Contracts Finder will undoubtedly provide a useful source of intelligence and contract information, yet it is the relationships between buyer and contractor that must be facilitated to help engender trust between both parties.

 

Many ‘Meet the Buyer’ type events now take place enabling buyers to “engage SME customers” but where such events are costing SMEs astronomical figures just for a meeting, we must question their accessibility. Such Meet the Buyers must not price out the very audience they are supposed to attract.

 

I would be delighted to see the wider adoption of the approach taken by Liverpool City Council in recent months whereby dialogue with SMEs is undertaken on a one to one basis through channels such as the International Festival for Business, Chamber of Commerce and other business networks, which can facilitate public sector access to SMEs in a far more affordable way.

 

As for the ease with which our SMEs can now gain access to government contracts, we look forward to hearing about our members’ experiences.

Access the government's Contracts Finder website: it lets you search for information about contracts worth over £10,000 with the government and its agencies.

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Business engagement from John Lennon Airport is a great step forward - now it's our turn to reciprocate

Posted by Paul Cherpeau

Chief Executive

Thu 26th, Feb

“We will create the airport our region loves.”

 

Last week’s Chamber of Commerce session with Liverpool John Lennon Airport’s Chief Executive, Andrew Cornish, and his management team gave us a great insight into the current status of the airport and how new blood can reignite the energy in an apparently tired organisation.

 

Never before has the Airport had such an open and engaging Chief Executive who has spoken of the Airport using realism and honesty in his assessment. His quote above reflects a perception that at some point, we fell out of love with our airport. But how and when did this happen?

 

Apparently it’s all about those ’08 carpets.

 

Perhaps it’s more to do with our obsession with Manchester and an unconscious (or perhaps increasingly conscious) sense of inferiority to what’s seen as the in-vogue economic powerhouse of the North. The airport has perhaps become the symbol of the contrasting scale and scope of both cities – as Manchester shows little sign of slowing it’s growth rate of routes, destinations and air carriers, little ol’ Liverpool is there depositing its handful of customers to a fraction of the destinations.

 

And I mentioned the carpet, right?

 

Customer experience is everything in the 21st century; it’s the marketers phrase of choice and in a world demanding instant gratification, lapses in standards are seized upon by consumers and escalate in the time it takes to switch on your mobile and tweet. The PR concerning drop off charges prove it.

 

The Airport’s self-diagnosis as “a bit marmite” is perfectly indicative of our relationship with it. It’s refreshing that the management team’s focus on customer service will ensure that the ‘minor’ things such as carpets, toilets, accessibility, greetings are very much in focus. Such improvements inevitably leave a positive impression, for customers, visitors, holiday-makers and investors.

 

We now have an airport which doesn’t aspire to be the biggest, grandest, most connected airport in the universe. Such aspirations are out of kilter with the real world. What we have is an airport that remains ambitious in its aspiration to be niche, boutique and connected to appropriate destinations, through a hub or directly where feasible.

 

Lost amidst the doom and gloom rhetoric are some real positives: 4m passengers in 2014, 10% business travellers, increased load factors and the serving of more than 60+ destinations with the most recent link to Prague commencing in May.

 

Engagement with Andrew and his team is invaluable. Businesses in this city region now have a responsibility to back the Airport up, to act as its Ambassadors and to contribute to its market engagement efforts.

 

The airport is surveying businesses on their travel requirements, understanding the destinations and frequency of visits on business and the locations from which they receive visitors. Without this market intelligence the Airport cannot make an informed business case to commercial airline operators who won’t introduce new routes to Liverpool on a wing and a prayer (if you’ll excuse the pun).

 

If you have specific destination requirements as a business or within your networks, let the airport know. If you need a specific link from Liverpool, it’s crucial this requirement is made clear and, where possible, quantified. If a lack of connectivity with a specific market is stifling inward investment opportunities, let the airport know that too.

 

The watchword at JLA is “Potential.” There is a plan, a strategy and for the first time in forever, a real sense of engagement with the private sector.

 

It’s time to roll up the old carpet and fly.

Complete the Airport's business route demand survey today

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Both the public & private sector need to work together if we are to grow our city's region construction industry

Tue 17th, Feb

The announcement that there could be 5,000 new jobs in the North West’s Construction industry came out a few weeks ago, the same week the Chamber hosted a Construction Breakfast where we heard from Liverpool City Council about some of the developments in the city both now and in the future. There is much to be positive about in the industry and Liverpool’s construction sector is in a far better position now than at any point since the 2007 recession.

After all, it’s important to remember the economic downturn of the recession hit the industry hard and resulted in many skilled and experienced professional and tradespeople leaving to find work elsewhere.

But things are looking up, especially for the North West & business people like myself and the variety of construction projects that are currently underway is telling of the city’s growing economy including an increased contribution from the private sector. I’m encouraged to learn that the public sector continue to be committed to driving large investment projects. As well as the new Royal Hospital and Alder Hey, a further £118m will be invested in The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and I’m delighted Chamber member Laing O’Rourke has won its contract.

However, it’s important that we can’t get ahead of ourselves. Take a look at the results of our recent Quarterly Economic Survey, for example. Yes, it’s promising that investment from the public sector fosters clear aspirations but confidence levels for businesses could be better. Fees for construction consultancy are still low as the economy is recovering and there is the issue of material shortages, particular bricks and steel.

Similarly, there are also broader issues that need to be addressed. Following the Chamber event, it got me thinking about the impact of the Atlantic Gateway and how it has the potential to become a major brand to influence private sector investment whilst becoming a crucial element to the Northern Powerhouse. I hope it will represent an opportunity for cross sector collaboration: private sector construction businesses working hand in hand with government to inform policy and deliver sustainable projects to stimulate economic growth and further funding opportunities.

If you're a supplier to the infrastructure sector currently looking for opportunities, Business in the Community are running an "Access the Buyer" event, next Tuesday at Merseytravel.

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I had a bit of a shock the other day when I realised that hardly anyone under 30 can remember a time when you could fly direct from Liverpool to Heathrow Airport.

Sat 07th, Feb

It really doesn’t seem like something that should be lost in the mists of time, but for many people it is.

It was in 1992, during the recession that followed the first Gulf war, that British Midland pulled the plug, having run five flights every weekday for about four years.

The service lost money overall but, until the Gulf war, passenger numbers were growing at 8% per annum and viability was in sight, thanks in no small part to the loyalty of the business community – business travellers accounted for 58% per cent of the traffic.

The main reason the route was pulled was that British Midland wanted to use its precious London slots for new European services. Even in those days, Heathrow was struggling to cope with its own growth.

Other airlines have tried since to run a London service to London City Airport, Gatwick or Stansted, but none have lasted because none of those airports is a major world hub like Heathrow.

KLM had a go at running a service from Liverpool John Lennon Airport as a spoke to its Schipol hub, but it only lasted two years until the economic downturn killed it off in 2011.

Currently, LJLA has no connections with any major hub airport and no direct flights to London.

Those are two serious gaps in the city region’s connectivity and there is only one way that they will ever be plugged: expansion of Heathrow Airport.

There is huge pent-up demand for such a service. In 2013, more than 1.1 million passengers from LJLA’s core catchment area flew from other UK airports on connecting flights to Heathrow.

That’s why the Chamber is supporting LJLA in lobbying the Airports Commission to come out in favour of more runway capacity at Heathrow.

Aberdeen, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford and Newcastle are also making the same argument for similar reasons.

A direct route from Heathrow to LJLA will make it easier for potential investors to get here. Meanwhile, the absence of direct flights is bound to make them wonder why the city doesn’t seem to merit an air link with the capital.

As far as Liverpool and Merseyside are concerned, the expansion of Heathrow can’t come soon enough. 

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