COLLABORATIONS with businesses and universities have a vital role to play in enabling the recovery of local businesses and the towns and cities in which they are based.

Caroline Walsh, Director of Solent University’s Solent Business School, explains how universities can work with businesses of all shapes and sizes to help them manage change and prepare for new ways of working.

With the South Coast economy taking a further hit from the latest lockdown, it has been an interesting time to join Solent University as Director of the new Solent Business School.

Solent Business School launched in November last year to meet a growing demand for the real-world management skills needed to succeed in every walk of life.

Covid-19 will make long lasting changes to the trajectory of many businesses as well as the way we work. With mass vaccination now offering hope of stability, there has never been a greater need for business education to help us solve the economic and social challenges caused by the pandemic both at a global and local level.

Universities have a particularly important role to play in supporting local economies. The Solent economy has a population of 1.24million, 42,000 businesses, GVA of £31billion, and is part of wider South East economy valued at £240bn GVA. Recognised by the Small Business Charter, Solent Business School is currently working with small business leaders, across the region, to provide insight and innovation support at this incredibly challenging time through online sessions.

We are also involved in a series of virtual knowledge exchange events for the region’s business community to help them continue to operate through the crisis. The sessions, which are supported by the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, include themes such as building strong teams, how to manage the new normal and workforce planning and development.

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, so supporting them through the recovery is vital. Of course, we are also working closely with the region’s biggest employers to provide our students with exposure to larger business as well as offering the businesses access to the innovative fresh thinking of our students.

For the past three years, we have run field trips, live briefs and strategic management simulation exercises with B&Q’s Store Support Office teams and 200 of our students. The B&Q team poses our students real-world challenges. How to use social media influencers, how to better position the digital offering for customers, how to attract a diverse range of local talent and how to create more inclusive working environments. In response, our students’ perception of work, business and B&Q is enhanced, and their recommendations have fed through to B&Q’s Board. Exchanges like this are empowering - they create change and add value.

We all recognise that it is still an uncertain time for businesses of all shapes and sizes in the South. Change has to be implemented faster than ever before in order to adapt. However, the pandemic has taught us some clear lessons: the increased need for flexible working; demand for a focus on inclusivity, mental health and wellbeing; the importance of agile, sustainable and digitally-enabled business models; and the benefits of collaboration.

Our relationships with business, small and large are fundamental to the evolving way we teach our students. Together we can ensure they are prepared with the knowledge and skills they need to be enterprising citizens and responsible leaders of the future who will support our economic recovery and future growth.