What is a research and development partnership?

A research and development partnership with BCU can support commercially focussed activities and those driven by societal challenges.

We encourage our academic researchers and students to be curious and use critical thinking to discover new topics, applications and solutions for our partners.

Studies have shown a clear link between research and development investment and economic growth.

Furthermore, university and business interaction grew during the pandemic.

“Collaboration between universities and businesses was foundational and central in combatting the crisis and leading recovery,” says Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of the National Centre for Universities and Businesses (NCUB).

The findings from NCUB are positive, with over 80 percent of businesses indicating that interactions exceeded their expectations.

With this in mind, have you ever thought about collaborating with a University researcher on a project? There could be a number of different challenges you are facing, but perhaps you’ve never thought that universities could have the answer.

Research and development partnerships from BCU bring together academic expertise and a business in order to address a potent and topical challenge.

It’s a beneficial partnership, where each participant learns and develops. It’s collaborative and exciting, without the potential drudgery of being lectured at in a classroom.

Take the PERSEUS project, for example, which saw BCU academics partner with several leading car manufacturing firms.

The task – Addressing an industry-wide challenge  

As of 2030, the UK has announced the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars. This change will bring with it a number of obstacles for the automotive industry.

In the meantime, electric vehicle sales continue to surge. Car manufacturers in the UK need to stay ahead of their competitors.

However, there are still challenges ahead. Namely, these electric vehicles need to get on to the road. This requires the integration of innovative technology into existing production methods.

To progress this, BCU academics and Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) came together to launch PERSEUS in late 2019.

This research and development partnership aimed to help JLR and six other industry partners transition from diesel and petrol to electric vehicles.

Innovate UK/Advanced Propulsion Centre provide funding for PERSEUS.

The solution – Expert courses to inform staff and implement quicker changes

As part of the research and development partnership, BCU developed continuous professional development (CPD) business courses to upskill project partners’ staff.

By doing this, BCU managed to accelerate the training developments that were needed.

Furthermore, it provided the technical excellence in supporting the UK manufacturing cluster, specifically skills development in smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0.

“These courses support enhanced and more adaptable working in manufacturing scenarios, with the key objective of assisting in the transition from petrol to electric vehicle technologies,” says Junaid Arshad, BCU lecturer and part of PERSEUS.

“This impact was achieved through upskilling engineers within the consortium companies in numerous fields.

“These include automotive engineering, immersive technologies, health and safety, cyber security and artificial intelligence.”

The benefits – Impactful content that educates workforce quickly and clearly

These CPD business courses have been delivered to over 200 enrolments from seven leading organisations in the car manufacturing sector. All received the content positively.

“PERSEUS provides the opportunity to develop more effective and efficient methods and processes that will enable our plant to offer full manufacturing flexibility between electric drive units and our petrol and diesel engines,” says a JLR representative.

“The project gave us the speed and responsiveness to produce what our customers want at the right time as we transition to an electrified future. JLR was also able to develop new processes for in-house EDU manufacturing.”

The beneficiaries ranged from the attending delegates, their employers and the group as a whole who share interdependence.

Also benefitting is the regional community at large, especially economically.

Employees found themselves in stable employment, employers enhanced their global footprint and could look to recruit new staff.

Looking to the future, generations and communities will benefit from cleaner technologies.

Delivering applications and solutions with expert insight

We engage in a wide range of research and development activities, including:

Our academics boast real-world expertise and knowledge.

They contribute often to BCU Advantage, providing helpful, proven advice on becoming more sustainable, addressing supply chain issues and being a better business leader.

At BCU, we have academic staff that are not in an ivory tower conducting stuffy research.

Instead, we have engaged professionals keen to work closely with businesses to make real change. Our research and developments are a key part of this.

Whether you need a CPD business course or hands-on support, take advantage of this help today.

Interested in undertaking the above CPD business course? Reach out to Khalid Ismail to find out more.

Learn more about R&D Partnerships with BCU

The importance of happiness in the workplace

An organisation is only as good as the people who work for it. Businesses need to improve employee satisfaction to ensure continued success.

This is especially important now that staff retention, productivity and engagement are among the most pressing concerns in modern business. Below are five ways that your company could foster better employee satisfaction.

1). Work flexibility

Giving employees sufficient control, autonomy and responsibility over their own time – both inside and outside of the office – is critical.

Offers your employees flexible work schedules. Furthermore, give them the option of telecommuting based on an employee’s needs.

This is a critical first step in managing employee turnover and retention. With a better work-life balance becoming increasingly more important than salary – and with 78 percent of employees favouring flexible working – this is a must.

At the start of 2022, I highlighted the importance of valuing employees’ work/life balance as one of the year’s most important things to consider. It seems I was right in my prediction.

2). Reward and compensation

You must show your employees that you appreciate and recognise their efforts and accomplishments.

Businesses should implemented recognition processes. This could be an ‘Employee of the Week/Month/Year’, for example. Shout about this good work on your company’s intranet, meetings, announcements and newsletters.

Other compensations, such as vouchers, an extra day off, ad hoc gifts, or simply using the best parking spot for the month, should also be considered to improve employee satisfaction.

3). Effective communication

Employees who believe they have been kept in the dark about workplace changes are displeased.

It can have severe effects. 80 percent of employees say ineffective workplace communication causes anxiety.

As a result, employee disengagement is increasing, as is the harmful game of “Chinese whispers.” In order to aid employee turnover and retention, you must be transparent when informing employees.

Use internal communication tools or platforms such as intranet software, newsletters, company emails, manager cascade meetings, and others to keep employees informed.

In today’s world, businesses must adopt an open-door policy to invite feedback and questions.

They must foster a collaborative culture in which employees feel heard and their opinions respected.

4). Better training and development

Employees must be encouraged to aim higher and advance in their careers.

To improve employee satisfaction, you need to invest in them through methods such as training, mentoring, upskilling, or coaching.

Employers benefit from happier workers and the additional skills and expertise they can bring to the table.

5). Harbour a better sociable culture

Happiness in the workplace comes from good interaction and communication.

Businesses should consider the working environment and whether co-workers can communicate and share ideas to attract future employees.

Organised social activities outside of work hours are beneficial.

Organisations that encourage celebrations of birthdays or attend events together exhibit greater workplace engagement and satisfaction, attracting future employees.

6). A focus on diversity and inclusion

Now, businesses that do not value diversity and inclusion cannot allow current staff to achieve their full potential.

Companies that foster diversity and inclusion are 70 percent more likely to capture new markets.

Meanwhile, diverse teams are 87 percent better at making decisions.

Today’s employees like workplaces that value and practice inclusion and diversity, and those that anticipate employees’ needs.

They want to achieve their full potential in organisations that accommodate them. Therefore, engage them and offer them equal career opportunities.

Also, today’s employees want to work for companies that value diversity and inclusion in their workplace cultures.

They want a business that understands that sharing ideas and best practices fosters creativity, innovation and improved performance.

Improve employee satisfaction with free business support

Concerned about happiness in the workplace? Worried that you may be missing out on hiring top talent? Maybe it’s time you had a sit down with an expert to go through a few important things.

BCU Advantage’s business analysis tool can help you identify new opportunities. You’ll gain a personalised business analysis report, as well as one to one business growth consultancy.

All the while, you will be guided by business experts who will point you in the direction of funding, further support, and event and workshop opportunities.

Learn more about our Business Analysis service

You might think that branding is just for clothing brands or Coca-Cola, but that is far, far from the truth. Any company from any industry needs a good brand in order to build a solid customer base.

Having a brand that your audience can instantly recognise is going to yield considerable benefits.

It’s something your potential employees are noticing, too, with 94 percent of candidates saying that they consider an employer’s brand when applying for jobs.

Whether you’re posting about a new offer on Facebook, producing a company newsletter or updating a section of your website, your brand should be consistent, eye-catching and memorable.

From June 10 – 15, it is Employer Branding Awareness Week, a time to celebrate the achievements of companies that are going above and beyond.

So, what better time to take a look at five key things to consider when improving your branding?

1). Stay consistent

When you’ve developed a certain style, it’s important that you do not deviate from it. Once you have a logo you are happy with, keep it. Once you’ve written a slogan, keep it. When you’ve written your mission values, stick with them.

Whatever the size of your company, whatever you produce, create some brand guidelines that everybody can follow.

Having a strong brand will boost your chances of getting new customers, increase employee motivation and give your business a clear direction.

Staying consistent will mean that people will begin to reminder and recognise your brand. It may take time, but the results will be worth it.  

Consistent presentation of a brand has been seen to increase revenue by 33 percent (according to Lucidpress). It’s these margins that can make a positive, long-term difference.

The same goes for colours – according to Reboot, using a signature colour can increase brand recognition by a whopping 80 percent.

2). Be a storyteller

People like stories. They want to hear about people, products and situations, especially ones that relate to a situation that they are in themselves. Storytelling in the world of business is vital, especially if you want to boost your profile.

Business is all about telling the right story and telling it well. It’s also highly powerful – The London School of Business discovered that people retain 65-70 percent of information shared via a story, versus just five percent of information they discovered through statistics.

Still not sure telling stories is worthwhile? Then check out these stats:

3). Be trustworthy

A recent survey from Accenture Strategy revealed that 66 percent of consumers think transparency is one of the most attractive qualities in a brand.

This just shows how customers’ demands have shifted – in 2022, issues like sustainability are at the forefront of their minds and they want transparency in where a brand sources its materials, how it treats employees and what happens behind closed doors.

However, don’t be insincere. Companies need to establish an emotional connection and be true to who they are as a business.

Be honest and be open. Embracing brand transparency can give you a real advantage over other businesses.

Furthermore, understand what your customers value. You have to care about your customers, but also address what your customers care about. What is important to your demographic?

77 percent of customers buy from brands that share the same values as they do, so it’s time for your business to do the appropriate research.

4). Embrace user generated content

You’ve probably heard the term ‘user generated content’ a lot since the start of the year without fully understanding what it means.

Essentially, it is content in all shapes and sizes – images, comments, reviews and videos, for example – that has been posted by users on websites and social media.

You have no doubt done this yourself. How many of us have sought out Google’s reviews to get a feel for a restaurant or visited Glassdoor to assess what it could be like to work for a certain company?

Even when using apps like eBay or Vinted to purchase items, the first thing many people do before buying is check out the seller’s reviews and ratings.

Customers today have so many ways to discover and research businesses and products, with 79 percent of people saying that user generated content highly impacts their purchasing decisions.

It’s now time to start putting this into action – begin courting reviews from your clients, ask for positive feedback, urge them to post pics and videos on to social media and create case studies with their input.

5). Get the help you need

Feeling overwhelmed? Not quite sure where to begin? We’re here to help.

If you want bespoke support that can really get into the nitty gritty of your business, then our Enterprise For Success service can give you the support you need – for free.

You’ll sit down with a consultant and identify key areas of development, diversification and expansion for your company. You’ll receive the insight needed to develop better strategies, including improving your branding.

Furthermore, you will also receive access to additional business growth support activities, including workshops and more.

Looking to improve your branding and boost your business? Find out more about Enterprise For Success.

Click here to learn more about Enterprise for Success

How important is storytelling for business?

Businesses need to sell their products and share their purpose, their ‘why’. How do they do that? By telling a story, of course.

From a musician using a crowdfunding platform to raise funds for an album to a manufacturing company creating a case study with one of their clients, they are creating stories that drive action.

Stories connect people and create brand loyalty. Customers can relate this understanding to their own lives, which helps them feel connected to the company.

The demand is out there. After all, according to a recent survey, eight out of ten (79 percent) of UK adults want brands to tell stories. That desire to feel connected to a brand can yield long-term benefits and profits.

“Storytelling, when done right, will put a consumer into the world of a brand to see a different perspective, showing them the bigger picture,” said Joe Teo, of leading content company Hey Orca, in an interview with Sujan Patel on storytelling.

“The story is an invitation for someone to participate in something bigger than themselves, something they believe in.”

Introducing new ways of thinking 

You may already understand the power of storytelling for business, but you’re just not sure how to weave a tale that forges a strong connection with customers.

Sometimes, it is useful to step outside of the box and out of your comfort zone. Developing new ways of thinking, with the help of those perhaps not intrinsically connected to the business world, can reap dividends.

It is one of the reasons why STEAMhouse, Birmingham City University’s community of artists, entrepreneurs and startups, is bringing a globally recognised and innovative spoken word artist to Birmingham this summer.

Steven Camden, better known as Polarbear, is an award-winning author, poet, performer, playwright, screenwriter and creative project leader.

He has performed across the globe, taking to the stage at Glastonbury, in California, Kuala Lumpur and Melbourne. He has a number of books published by the likes of HarperCollins.

On Thursday 30 June, Polarbear will bring his multiple talents to STEAMhouse. But what does this have to do with improving storytelling for business?

Over the course of the afternoon, Polarbear will lead exercises into collaborative storytelling and character creation. He will ask you to reflect on your own practise, whatever your field, and develop ideas, characters and stories that connect.

In a relaxed and conversational setting, you will build settings, motivations and stories out of nothing.

You will have a sense of freedom in creating new ideas and running with them. Then, you can take these new concepts, ideas and methods back to your business to strengthen your storytelling.

See things in a new and exciting way

Polarbear’s appearance is part of STEAMhouse’s STEAM Labs sessions.

STEAM Labs are highly experimental but highly rewarding workshops that thrive on collaboration and creativity. They help businesses see things differently and apply new, exciting approaches to their work.

They impel them to think about the development of projects, products and services in completely new ways.

This is all underpinned by five guiding principles – conversation, exploration, collaboration, openness and newness.

Polarbear’s appearance will be a prime example of bringing together representatives from different disciplines, sectors and backgrounds, to create a thrilling atmosphere where new ideas – and new stories – are created.

Ready to apply new methods of storytelling for business? Register to attend Polarbear’s workshop today.

Click here to register for Polarbears workshop

Helping businesses from multiple backgrounds

Is your business wrestling with a particular challenge? Do you find you haven’t got the manpower or the skills needed to solve it? Perhaps it’s time you looked at acquiring a student or graduate to make that difference.

Businesses of different shapes and shapes, from different disciplines and industries, at different stages of development, have all come forward, asked for help and reaped the benefits.

Take Peters Ltd, for example. Based in Birmingham, Peters is the UK’s leading specialist supplier of children’s books and furniture to schools, academies, public libraries and multi-academy trusts.

With a passion for inspiring children and young people to read for pleasure, they offer a range of services to support schools’ reading requirements and help improve literacy levels.

The team also offer bespoke book selections, book packs and a free library design service to help schools transform their libraries and reading zones.

However, as an extremely busy team, Peters were keen to recruit a new member to support with the existing workload and grow the business. That’s where BCU’s upskilling and recruitment service, Higher Level Skills Match (HLSM), came in.

Accessing skilled student support

HLSM is an award-winning, unique collaboration between BCU, Aston University, Newman University and local councils.

It helps to identify a business’ skills gaps, and source them with student and graduate talent.

Following unsuccessful recruitment through various existing channels, Peters partnered with HLSM – part-funded by the European Social Fund – to recruit a student that could seamlessly slot into their business, take on a task and run with it.

Peters felt that by taking on this support would mean they’d gain a student who has amassed the latest skills in design software, something the business required.

“HLSM enabled us to find a candidate not only with the right skillset, but also with an interest in and passion for our specific area within the industry,” the company says.

Long-term support with long-term growth

With support from a dedicated account manager, Peters successfully recruited a student, Rowan, with the necessary skills for the role.

After his placement ended, Rowan’s hard work and talent for the role meant Peters were keen to keep him as a full-time member of the team.

Rowan has secured a permanent role with the organisation and has since gone above and beyond,” the company says.

“In his six months here so far, he has already successfully secured four designs with clients (normally it could take a year to secure one).”

Peters hope to offer work experience or an internship to future graduates across the businesses, giving graduates the support and first step into the industry.

Tailored support to meet business’ needs

By working in partnership with SMEs, HLSM has been able to provide a higher quantity and broader range of roles for students. Furthermore, it assists in ensuring students and graduates remain in the local area, aiding talent retention.

It provides regional SMEs with something they have needed for a considerable time. Namely, tailored support that meets their needs and achieves their goals.

Recently, HLSM has worked with a number of leading companies, including assisting global brand Lounge Underwear.

HLSM also hosted a business speed networking event, which brought together nearly 60 regional businesses to engage with students about filling skills gaps, work placements, employment and advice.

Interested in securing support from a highly skilled student or graduate? Contact us today.

Click here to learn more about Higher Level Skills Match

Sustainable business support – more important now than ever

You’ve probably heard a lot about the need for businesses to go green – in fact, it was widely circulated as one of the top business trends of 2022.

It is something businesses across the country are working hard to achieve. According to the Federation of Small Businesses, over 1,200 businesses are aiming to be more sustainable.

“By going green, there will be benefits to health, wealth and the welfare of citizens around the world,” said Beverley Nielsen in a recent think piece for BCU Advantage on sustainable business support.

“Going green provides you with an enhanced brand image, as well as a positive effect on your costs. O2’s green calculator finds that some companies can save around £2.6 million a year.”

So, how can your business be more sustainable? With World Environment Day approaching, we shine a light on some of STEAMhouse’s most sustainable companies and ask them for some key insight.

The importance of understanding your supply chain

Julian Todd is the Founder of Nocomoto, a Birmingham-based startup that is developing an all-weather electric bike, Evolv365, for sale in the UK and EU.

“Most people find traditional bikes unattractive,” Julian explains. “Our goal is to offer a viable alternative to cars and vans for urban journeys.”

Julian has been involved in various sustainability initiatives at STEAMhouse since 2019, fully utilising workshop facilities and technical support.

What kind of obstacles may green businesses face?

“Access to development finance is always a challenge,” Julian says.

UK Research and Innovation is probably the best place to start looking for relevant grants. Development loans at very competitive rates are also available.

What sustainable business support does Julian recommend?

“A great place for any business to start looking for sustainability improvements is their upstream and downstream supply chain. Sourcing more environmentally friendly materials and finding ways to re-purpose “waste” can potentially save money as well as the planet!”

Julian believes that all businesses have an important role to play in reducing carbon emissions, pollution and wastefulness.

“If you have an idea for a new product, STEAMhouse will really help you explore the idea and build the prototype,” he enthuses.

Create as little waste as possible  

Tom Payne, who makes homeware products using environmentally friendly materials, first got involved with STEAMhouse through a course in which participants could learn more about biomaterials.

“I then discovered the great STEAMhouse Create programme,” he says. “I thought all the services and support offered was great, so I applied to become a member.”

Since then, STEAMhouse has helped him to confidently experiment with and utilise biomaterials, among others.

“With the support of STEAMhouse, I have begun to incorporate more waste stream materials in the development of my work,” Tom says.

“I am now more confident experimenting with biomaterials and have been learning how my business can be part of the circular economy.”

As for advice for fellow green businesses, Tom advises creating as little waste as possible.

“If you sell physical products, make sure you use as little packaging as possible. I research what is in all the materials and products I use and where they’re being sourced,” he explains.

“It can be challenging to find sustainable solutions for everything, but as long as you start somewhere there is always room to improve.”

Value the lessons you learn from nature

Clare Hewitt works with the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research, a world-leading facility pioneering research into the impact of climate and environmental change on woodlands and trees.

She joined STEAMhouse to receive help in developing printing techniques. Since then, she has benefitted hugely from the support on offer.

“The support I have received has been pivotal in bringing my ideas to physical fruition. I’ve learned so much from being within such a creative and collaborative environment,” Clare says.

With STEAMhouse’s sustainable business support, Clare has designed and built 24 wooden pinhole cameras resembling birdboxes, as well as working with processes to study life below the forest floor to document its changing needs.

Like Tom, Clare is now more engaged in biomaterials and how to utilise them.

“I am also a member of the monthly Materials Club. This has helped me gain insight from other members on creating sustainable products and publishing materials,” she says.

“Being surrounded by people who are working with similar – and also completely different – processes has been inspiring. It’s enabling me to become more conscious of sustainability and to push my work into areas that I haven’t previously considered.”

What advice does Clare have for those looking to become more sustainable?

“A really good place to start is to value the lessons you can learn from nature and the environment itself. My practice has naturally become more sustainable (from this).”

Looking for more sustainable business support? Apply to become a STEAMhouse member and begin your green journey today.

Click here to learn more about STEAMhouse

What is the four-day week trial?

A four-day working trial will officially begin in the UK from Wednesday 1 June, lasting for six months.

60 companies are taking part across a number of sectors, including marketing agencies, engineering firms, recruiters and retailers.

Employees will not lose any of their wages during this trial. Businesses will work with researchers to record the impact on productivity, as well as the impact on the environment and gender equality.

It arrives as the workplace continues to adapt post-pandemic.

Better work/life balance

Many employees are growing increasingly interested in the work/life balance benefits this kind of model would bring.

A recent survey, for example, found that three-quarters of workers would welcome this compressed way of working.

“The pandemic has been the catalyst for many organisations to engage in this sort of project,” says Dr Steve McCabe, an economist, business expert and active researcher at Birmingham City University.

“Crises are always, perversely, an opportunity to be radical – in the 1970s, for example, heavy energy use in industry resulted in a three-day week. Post-pandemic workplace trends like working four days a week are a viable option.”

In recent years, a four-day working week has previously been piloted in Japan, where Microsoft gave employees five Fridays off in a row, resulting in better morale and a productivity increase of up to 40 percent.

Steve believes the technology at many companies’ disposal can contribute to working less hours without productivity or outputs being affected.

“New tech can radically improve workers’ ability to achieve outputs,” he says. “Investment and training of workers are fundamental to successfully transforming an organisation.

“As long as the operational aspects of production and delivery can be resolved, a four-day week can be a win-win.

“Indeed, provided the change is introduced in a way that is not disruptive to the business, evidence of its use elsewhere demonstrates that it can be cost effective in that productivity increases.”

What benefits could a four-day week bring?

A huge plus is a better work/life balance. Craig Jackson, Professor of Occupational Health Psychology at BCU (pictured below), believes that this will be markedly improved if the number of rest days an employee has is increased.

Photo of Professor Craig Jackson, of Birmingham City University

“Working fewer days allows workers to focus their efforts into compressed working periods and have more downtime,” he says in an interview with Yahoo! Life.

“We talk lots about work/life balance. However, in my 20 years of experience, I rarely see any balance in those who work five days a week, but plenty in those who work fewer days.”

Craig says this could also have benefits for the employers. These include improving staff morale and, in turn, boosting retention and reducing turnover.

“We need to remember that the workplaces which do the best in getting good things from their employees, and having fewer problems, are those that exert the maximum amount of flexibility in how the work is done,” he says.

“Effective managers and leadership should encourage workers to take sufficient breaks. Allow staff to dictate their working patterns when possible.”

In terms of challenges, Craig suggests some generations may favour four-day working weeks, while some may prefer to remain working five days.

“One challenge organisations may face will be ensuring not just younger workers adopt four-day weeks while older workers stick with traditional work patterns. Such a lack of diversity could develop into a work/skills problem.”

Will this post-pandemic workplace trend yield long-term success?

Craig feels that some employees will welcome the change, some will prefer five days. Therefore, the businesses that offer that flexibility will be the most successful.

“The four-day week trials in other countries have shown promising benefits. However, some workers will accept the change to four days and some will go elsewhere,” he explains. “Companies that will do the best from this situation will be those who offer greater flexibility.

“In many sectors, England’s businesses closed for half a day, usually on a Wednesday afternoon, up until the late 1980s. Businesses survived, and workers were all the better for it.”

Steve believes that the four-day working week should be regarded as a “first step to continual adaptation.”

“The positive of reduced time at work will be clear by the evidence of workers who feel more valued and believe their work/life balance is being considered,” he says.

“Any negatives – possibly because the change in working week is seen as a temporary fad – should be resisted.

“A four-day working week is highly likely to become the standard pattern of employment for future generations. No one wants