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Event: Towards achieving sustainability in urban traffic management with CILT

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

On 4 October, experts from the Management School welcome the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and a stellar speaker line-up to discuss a sustainable traffic management approach for UK cities.

Richard Bruce and Dr Erica Ballantyne are welcoming bookings for the event which will be held in Inox Dine (5th Floor, Sheffield University Students’ Union) from 10am-4pm. Guests include Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and representatives from Siemens, Jaguar Land Rover, ITM Power, Sheffield City Council and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive.

Together, they will discuss the challenge of planning a forward-looking transport management approach, covering key difficulties such as social acceptability, government affordability and air quality improvement targets.

Through the involvement of key practitioners and researchers, the seminar and workshop will examine issues such as the rise of omni-channel business, private car usage, a reluctance to use public transport, the lack of ‘joined up thinking’ from transport providers, and the rise in vehicle-based crime. The day will consider the enablers and tools available to help participants navigate the minefield.

Coffee on arrival. Light lunch and tea/coffee included.

To book: Complete this form or contact CILT’s membership services (Tel: 01536 740104/membership@ciltuk.org.uk – quote event code NER0306).

Cost: Member – £32.50/Non-member – £50/Student – £15

Prof Lenny Koh welcomes local MEP to the University

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

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Prof Lenny Koh, director of the Advanced Resource Efficiency Centre (AREC) welcomed John Procter, MEP for Yorkshire & the Humber, to the University on 22 September.

Mr Procter and his adviser to the Yorkshire & the Humber region, Martin Dales, met with different departments at the University including the Management School, the Department of Materials Science and the Faculty of Social Sciences’ Impact and Knowledge Exchange (SSPIKE) team.

As the spokesman for Education and Culture, Mr Procter (pictured above with Prof Koh, right, and Shirley Harrison from the AMRC) has a keen interest in research at the University and was keen to see its facilities and learn more about ongoing projects. Prof Koh showed the visitors the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and cutting-edge laboratory facilities in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, which form part of the Sir Henry Royce Institute.

This visit follows AREC’s impact presentation at the European Parliament in Brussels. Mr Procter hosted the event, ‘Pathway to Global Policy, Industry and Societal Impact’, which showcased Prof Koh’s role in working towards environmental sustainability. At the event, she presented the Supply Chain Environmental Analysis Tool – Intelligence (SCEnATi), a cloud-based software in partnership with Microsoft, which helps businesses become more competitive and resource efficient, whilst reducing negative impacts on the environment.

On his visit, Mr Procter said: “I was impressed by the University of Sheffield. It was great to see first-hand the world-leading work produced right here in Yorkshire. The research has great implications for the region, as well as globally. In a world where the global supply chain relies on resources interconnection, it’s inspiring to see research which champions an inclusive, integrated approach to resource sustainability and efficiency.”

Prof Koh continued: “It was my privilege to show Mr Procter leading examples of Sheffield’s research. Our cross disciplinary environment, combined with a global outlook, shape our contribution to the region and beyond.”

In support of decent work: Prof Colin Williams’ European Commission platform continues significant impact across EU

Monday, September 18th, 2017

Prof Colin Williams, Chair in Public Policy at the Management School, is engaged in an ongoing project with the European Commission addressing undeclared work.

Tackling the undeclared economy has become a critical issue on the policy agendas of supra-national agencies and governments in recent years, leading to action from Prof Williams and his team in the Cluster for Research on the Informal Sector and Policy (CRISP).

In early September, the International Training Centre of the ILO (International Labour Organisation) in Turin hosted a global knowledge sharing forum on making the transition from the informal to the formal economy. This was attended by Ministers and senior government officials from 17 countries including Brazil, Egypt, Ghana, India, Mexico, Russia, Senegal, South Africa and Vietnam.

Professor Williams opened the five-day forum and led a panel which presented his experiences on formalising the informal economy in Europe including policy approaches that work and those that don’t. He said: “The intention of this forum was to allow countries to engage in a process of mutual learning. This topic is important when we realise that 60 per cent of workers globally are employed in the informal economy where they are unregistered and have no labour rights or entitlements, such as to holidays, minimum wages, and health and safety standards. Across the world, the issue of achieving ‘decent work’ is seen as a key issue for all governments, and the aim of the ILO is to disseminate best practice on how this can be achieved.”

Prof Williams’ critical work continues this month (September 2017) as he takes the Mutual Assistance Project to Latvia with the aim of improving the performance of their State Labour Inspectorate in dealing effectively with undeclared work.

This platform was launched in 2016 and provides a forum at EU level where enforcement authorities and social partners can learn from each other. The work programmes include seminars, staff exchanges and training, as well as the development of toolkits, studies and mutual assistance projects. Prof Williams said: “Officials in Latvia have taken this opportunity to be counselled in an area where they would like to see improvement. Romania are reporting great progress after a similar visit in November 2016, so we will be mirroring that approach which led to policy recommendations about how they could improve as well as strategic and operational guidance.

“The expert team ​visiting Latvia will focus on discussing areas where the ​​State Labour Inspectorate can benefit from the mutual learning process​, including strategic management​ practices; operational processes; evidence-based design and implementation of initiatives​; management of partnerships; and allocation of resources.”

Prof Williams is conducting a follow-up visit to Romania at the end of this month and will visit Latvia to evaluate its success in late 2018.

Selling experiences – not rooms: Exploring the future of luxury travel through digital strategy

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

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Can a holiday make you a better parent, or more creative? Luxury hospitality consumers aren’t satisfied with a great view – they want a substantive change borne out of amazing experiences, suggests Dr Navdeep Athwal.

Luxury consumption has shifted away from goods and towards experiences, so how can the premium hospitality market capitalise on this? Navdeep’s white paper, co-authored with digital agency Verb Brands, argues that the key to growth is brands getting their digital and marketing strategies right.

Social media and luxury travel goes hand in hand – customers are generally tech-savvy and self-sufficient deeming the high street travel agent redundant. They favour mobile apps over web browsers so are likely to interact with a provider from a hand-held device at one point in the process, leading brands to address their digital and social media approaches in order to remain competitive.

A brand’s social media must showcase the aspirational experience while also demonstrating customer care and relationship management. User-generated, story-based content trumps traditional advertising so many brands employ online ‘influencers’ to contribute to visual platforms like Instagram. While they can be effective, Navdeep suggests brands introduce a comprehensive vetting process prior to appointment, as well as exploring people without an online presence who have “priceless Rolodexes” for accessing high-earning, hard-to-reach spenders.

An ‘Instagrammable’ destination has become a primary influencing factor for millennials choosing their holidays, and with 25-34 year olds spending much of their disposable income on travel, this paper highlights the importance of brands understanding how to deploy digital to best meet market requirements. Navdeep indicates that AI is the future of customer engagement – meanwhile Airbnb is adapting its sharing economy model to meet the expectations of luxury travellers. The landscape is changing, and quickly.

In this paper, Navdeep also identifies successful strategies for businesses based on offline consumer behaviour. Luxury consumers are pursuing experiences over possessions – “a better me” is the product and key themes are wellness, personalisation and dining.

One of the market’s primary challenges is building brand love and loyalty, though defining the latter is complex as it can be driven by behavioural (earning perks) or attitudinal (emotional) motivations. Navdeep suggests that arriving at a combination of both in a brand’s marketing strategy is ideal. She continues: “Globalisation necessitated a one-size-fits-all approach, but the changing luxury market demands a more personalised response. Brand authenticity is vital, as is a marketing and digital strategy shaped around accurately collected and analysed data.”

“Over the next ten years, growth in luxury travel is expected to exceed that of overall travel – brands must tap-in to consumers’ spiritual and emotional motives for spending their money on travel. Happily, we’re already starting to see premium brands such as major hotel chains react by refining their digital approach.”

Click here to read the full report (‘The Evolving Luxury Hospitality Market – what’s the key to its growth?’).

50 days of research at the Management School

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Today (Monday 11 September 2017), we launch a campiagn which puts a spotlight on the Management School’s commitment to world-leading research.

Each day for the next ten working weeks, we will showcase some of our current leading research on the School’s Twitter and Facebook portals, using the hashtag #50daysSUMS. Dr Kirsty Newsome, Associate Dean for Research, said: “Research underpins so much activity at the Management School. We want our ’50 Days of Research and Impact’ campaign to highlight how the research activity of the School is fundamental to our Mission to promote socially-responsible work practices and to have a positive impact on organisations and societies worldwide. Over the next 50 working days, we will showcase some of the research that we’re very proud of – but be assured, this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Prof Tim Vorley, Associate Dean for Impact, Innovation and Engagement, continued: “We’re top five in the Russell Group for research impact – by using social media I want this campaign to reach new audiences who aren’t currently aware of the Management School’s contribution to global society.”

Follow the School on Twitter or Facebook for regular updates.

Breaking down barriers: Japanese organisations learn about obstacles for women’s career development

Friday, September 1st, 2017

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Japan has one of the most educated female populations in the world, yet women continue to face substantial difficulties in advancing their careers. Dr Huiping Xian (pictured above, left) from the Management School has used a British Academy research grant to identify the obstacles and how to overcome them

Huiping recently presented her findings at J.P. Morgan’s Tokyo head office, an event supported hosted by the financial services firm which welcomed 40 attendees from academia and industry, including managers from large Japanese firms like Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT), Tsukuba Bank Group, Dydo Pharmaceutical Corporation, Sekisui House and Information Services International-Dentsu, Ltd.

In her presentation, Huiping compared employment and career issues which women face in China, the UK and Japan. Her presentation drew knowledge and findings from the research project, in which her team conducted 25 face-to-face interviews with Japanese women who hold managerial and professional roles.

Following the interviews, researchers identified four issues which are hindering women’s career development in Japanese firms: gender bias against women; masculine organisational culture and practices; the difficulty of combining work and family; and the lack of female role models and mentors.

Huiping hopes that by holding events in business settings, Japanese firms will pay attention to the issues: “It is essential that organisations start to tackle issues that prevent women from progressing, such as long-hours culture and lack of support for women.

“I learned that J.P. Morgan has an informal group, based on their global network, which aims to promote better work-life balance for their employees – it is encouraging that their Vice President Marketing and Communications, Ms Ayako Asano, attended the workshop. This shows that it is on the agenda for large Japanese organisations.

“We would like Japanese organisations to train line managers to help support women in their team, ask successful women in their company to mentor and share experiences, and consider implementing policies which limit the number of overtime hours and encourage work-life balance.”

Huiping is Principal Investigator on this project, ‘Developing women’s careers in Japan’. Research has been done in collaboration with colleagues at Bournmouth University (UK) and the Women and Work Research Centre (Japan). Images courtesy of Kanae Toyama. Click here to view slide from the discussed research.

Comment: Fact Check – would banning zero-hours contracts harm more people than it would help? By Prof Jason Heyes

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

“So while Matthew’s report is clear that many workers value the flexibility that zero-hours contracts offer them, and that banning such contracts altogether would harm more people than it would help, it is important that we continue to ensure that employers do not use these contracts to exploit people.”
– Theresa May, speaking at the launch of a report by Matthew Taylor on working practices in the UK on July 11.

Zero-hours contracts allow employers to hire workers ad hoc without guaranteeing them a minimum number of hours a week. There were 905,000 people on zero-hours contract between October to December 2016, but they remain controversial. The Labour Party has promised to ban them, but the government remains committed to keeping the rules that allow this kind of casual employment.

In her comments, the prime minister was referring to a section in the Taylor Report on zero-hours contracts, which states: “To ban zero-hours contracts in their totality would negatively impact many more people than it helped.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy confirmed to The Conversation that this statement was based on a Labour Force Survey published in March 2017 – also mentioned in the Taylor Report – which found that “68% of those on zero-hours contracts do not want more hours”.

Scant evidence

Apart from this 68% figure, the Taylor Report provides few other clues to the assumptions underpinning the claim. Yet how many would prefer to work the same number of hours but with contracts that offered them greater certainty? If employers were required to provide a guaranteed minimum number of hours, what impact would that have on overall employment and the employment opportunities open to workers with different circumstances? These questions have received insufficient attention.

One in seven care workers were employed on zero-hours contracts in 2016. via shutterstock.com

The Taylor Report mentions that almost a fifth of people on zero-hours contracts are in full-time education. A ban on zero-hours contracts might make it more difficult for some of these individuals to combine paid work and studying, but we do not know what percentage would simply seek a more regular part-time job.

A similar issue arises in relation to those with caring responsibilities: for some, zero-hours contracts might provide a good means of fitting work around care commitments, but what percentage would prefer a contract that offered greater certainty? Evidence relating to these issues is lacking.

How to measure cost and benefits

The lack of detailed, regularly collected and nationally representative data about the consequences of zero-hours contracts for workers, and employers, limits our ability to debate the pros and cons of a complete ban. Respondents to the Labour Force Survey are asked whether they are employed on a zero-hours contract, but are not asked about the consequences for their well-being, job satisfaction and quality of life. The Understanding Society Survey, which does examine issues such as well-being and quality of life, does not explicitly ask respondents whether they are employed on a zero-hours contract.

The costs and benefits associated with zero-hours contracts potentially extend beyond those who are employed under such contracts. For workers with families, the uncertainty associated with zero-hours contracts may have implications for the well-being and standard of living of all household members. These wider consequences would presumably need to be taken into account in any assessment of whether a ban would harm more people than it would benefit.

To fully assess the claim we would also need to define what we mean by negative and positive impacts. And to consider whether the nature and scale of harmful and beneficial effects resulting from a ban might vary between different groups. For example, might the potential “harm” to a student resulting from a loss of flexibility be outweighed by the potential benefit – in terms of increased financial security and reduced anxiety – to an older individual from having a more reliable income? And might that potential benefit be considered even greater if that individual has children?

Even if it were true that a ban on zero-hours contracts would hurt more people than it would help, that would not necessarily be sufficient grounds for retaining zero-hours contracts. We would also need to consider the nature and consequences of the gains and losses in order to assess the overall impact on society.

Verdict

In the absence of evidence that would enable us to more accurately assess the potential positive and negative impacts of a ban on zero-hours contracts, the claim that a ban would hurt many more people than it would help surely amounts to speculation rather than hard fact.

Review

Keith Bender, SIRE chair in economics, University of Aberdeen

Overall, I agree with the verdict. There is little data in the Taylor Report to support the government’s claim. The key question when looking at costs and benefits is “compared to what?” The 68% figure mentioned in the report can be contrasted with further data from the March 2017 report from the Office for National Statistics showing that over 90% of those not on zero-hours contracts do not want more hours – a sizeable difference.

The graph below shows that zero-hours workers are much more likely to want an additional job, a replacement job with more hours or more hours on the current job. It may be that a zero-hours jobs are better than no job, but in terms of hours, these ONS statistics suggest that they do not compare favourably with other types of contracts.

I agree with the author that more research needs to be done in this area to draw any conclusions. Key to that will be understanding the “voluntariness” of zero-hours contracts – understanding who wants them because of desired flexibility and who are forced into them because of a lack of other types of contracts.

The ConversationThe Conversation is is checking claims made by public figures and prominent in public debates. Statements are checked by an academic with expertise in the area. A second academic expert then reviews an anonymous copy of the article. Please get in touch if you spot a claim you would like us to check by emailing us at uk-factcheck@theconversation.com. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Comment: From Westminster to Stormont – forty years of failed housing policies, by Dr Stewart Smyth

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

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Public housing has always been financially sustainable – it is political choices over the past forty years that have sought to undermine social tenure, writes Stewart Smyth. He explains how housing policy has evolved in Northern Ireland and makes the case for a new approach. First published on the LSE British Politics and Policy Blog.

It was a tragic and unwelcome co-incidence to launch a report about public housing in the same week of the horrific fire in west London’s Grenfell Tower. We will need to wait for the investigations to establish the exact causes of the fire but one conclusion is immediately evident. This tragedy arose from an environment of cuts in funding, de-regulation, outsourcing and privatisation policies that have been applied to all public services over the past forty years. Even before the austerity policies of the Coalition government, council tenants suffered from what was known as the Moonlight Robbery.

In 2008/09, council tenants in England paid £1.4 billion more in rent than the management and maintenance allowances spent on their homes. In the following year, according to the government’s own calculations, it was estimated that Kensington and Chelsea needed an increase of nearly £5 million in that year alone, in repairs allowances.

Each news report brings more allegations and evidence of building and fire regulations and inspections being out of date and not fit for purpose. And then there are the privatisation policies – based on the neoliberal view that the public sector is inefficient and bureaucratic and the private sector is innovative and provides good value for money. In other words, public sector badprivate sector good.

This is the ideology that gave rise to the privatisation of council homes through the Right to Buy, introduced in the Housing Act 1980, and a range of partial-privatisation arrangements. One such arrangement is the Tenant Management Organisation (TMO) that managed the Grenfell Tower.

When New Labour came to power they refused to fund council housing directly, forcing local authorities into PFI schemes or arm’s-length management organisations (like the TMO in Kensington and Chelsea) or large-scale voluntary transfers (also known as stock transfers). It is the last of these schemes that is now being introduced into Northern Ireland.

Public housing in Northern Ireland

Sectarian discrimination in local authority housing allocations up to the late 1960s was one of the key issues taken-up by the NI Civil Rights Association. Before the start of the Troubles, Bloody Sunday, and the subsequent armed campaigns by both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, housing was the cause of rioting in 1969 in Belfast and across NI. The Westminster government’s report into these disturbances identified the inadequacy of housing provision, unfair means of allocating new build homes, and mis-use of discretionary powers to ensure Unionist control of local government.

One of the final acts of the Labour government in 1970 was to set in motion the establishment of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and transfer all local authority housing to this new body. Over the intervening decades the Executive has been one of the success stories in NI to such an extent that a PwC report in 2011 stated:

Since its introduction nearly 40 years ago it has delivered significant social benefits throughout Northern Ireland with the quality of the housing stock having moved from one of the worst in Western Europe to what is now regarded as best quality stock. It is rightly regarded nationally and internationally as a leading authority on ‘best practice’ on both housing management and community building.

However, not all political parties in NI share this view of the legacy or the performance of the Housing Executive. For the past five years, successive DUP ministers in the Department for Communities (and its predecessor) have sought to break-up the Housing Executive through internal re-organisations and a policy of stock transfers.

Stock transfers are privatisation

Stock transfers are aimed at moving public housing ‘off-balance sheet’ for the government, by giving the housing to a housing association. Housing associations are private limited companies, which have a not-for-profit basis often with a charitable status. Historically, for government accounting rules, they are considered to be in the private sector and so can borrow without hitting the government’s debt numbers. [In practice this position has continued despite the recent ONS decisions to classify housing associations as quasi-public corporations]. This private finance is then used to fund the maintenance and improvements of the homes transferred.

There are two major problems with this policy, as the initial stock transfers in NI have highlighted. First, housing associations have to charge higher rents. This is because they have a higher cost structure than the NI Housing Executive (NIHE), partly due to the private finance they use. It is more expensive for housing associations (as medium-sized private companies) to borrow than it is for the Housing Executive (as a large public corporation).

For example, in the proposed transfer on the Grange estate, Ballyclare rents are to increase by 18 per cent. In this estate over 70% of NIHE tenants are on full or partial housing benefits; resulting in public money going straight to a private landlord so that they can pay interest to financial institutions, and tenants not on housing benefit having to find that money themselves.

Second, housing associations do not perform as well as the NIHE when it comes to responding to repairs. For example, if the repair needs to be completed within four days, the NIHE achieve the target in 97.5 per cent of cases. The same number of housing associations is just 82.4%. What we get with stock transfer is the old story of privatisation – higher prices and worsening services.

Political Choices

It is estimated that the NIHE needs £300 million a year for the next five years to start the maintenance and upgrade programme caused by years of underfunding. At the end of 2016 the then NI Finance Minister estimated the cut in Corporation Tax would cost £270 million a year off the block grant. If that money was redirected, a prudent estimate is of 4,200 new jobs in housing alone with increased economic activity of £900 million per year. These are real and achievable economic outcomes that are within the control of the Assembly; rather than gambling on potential investment decisions, made in boardrooms of multinational corporations.

For a radical housing policy:

The NI Executive government are in a fortunate position of having a major body, the NIHE, with an outstanding track record of improving the living conditions for tens of thousands of people over the past forty years. However, recent years have seen a concerted effort by some politicians to break-up the Housing Executive, and, in the process, this legacy of improving living conditions has been lost. It does not have to be like this. The new NIPSA report, Our Homes, Our Future, sets out a number of recommendations for both the NIHE and housing more generally. Another housing policy is possible – one that is based on putting the basic human need for shelter before money and profit.

Establishing pathways to resource efficiency and sustainability: Joining academia and industry

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

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Prof Lenny Koh, chair in operations management, recently co-hosted an event at the European Parliament, Brussels. Alongside John Procter, MEP for Yorkshire and Humber (European Conservatives and Reformists Group), she brought industry and academia together to showcase the research excellence and impact of the Sheffield-based Advanced Research Efficiency Centre (AREC).

Focusing on environmental sustainability, resource production and consumption efficiency, Lenny aimed to maximise the centre’s global outreach and gave an informative introduction to the Supply Chain Environmental Analysis Tool – Intelligence (SCEnATi), part of AREC’s research output.

SCEnATi is a tool used by leading organisations to map their supply chain and identify improvement opportunities in terms of economic, environmental and social factors by relying on the tool’s businesses intelligence capability integrated within the hybrid lifecycle analysis methodology.  Lenny emphasized the importance of global stakeholder collaboration using the examples of mobile phone manufacturing, use and after-life disposal, and changes to the motor industry.

Other panel members also presented their vision for greener supply chains and how researchers and industry can work closer together. They included Prof Panos Ketikidis (International Faculty of the University of Sheffield in Thessaloniki, Greece), Jay Sterling Gregg (European Energy Research Alliance), Philippe Micheaux Naudet (Association of Cities and Regions for Sustainable Resource Management) and Maria Rincon-Lievana (Circular Economy Action Plan).

A number of key points emerged from the following discussion, including the importance of interdisciplinary innovation to a greener economy, greening public procurement, investors and innovators collaborating on advancing science, energy storage and security, and the importance of the circular economy.

Comment: SMEs Going International – Capacity Building in SMEs for internationalisation, confidence, connections and capability

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

By Marian Jones and Melanie Hassett

In June, researchers from the University of Sheffield, Melanie Hassett, Marian Jones, Junzhe Ji and Tina McGuinness, along with Karl Warner from Edinburgh Napier University, hosted a sandpit event on the internationalisation of SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises). During the event they engaged in conversations with guests from local SMEs, government support agencies, and other facilitating bodies.

ABOVE: Capturing experiential knowledge. The stickers on the world map illustrate locations where workshop participants have done business.

ABOVE: Capturing experiential knowledge. The stickers on the world map illustrate locations where workshop participants have done business.

The aim of this event was to capture the entrepreneurial voice from lived experiences of ‘going international’ and to understand how entrepreneurs, intermediaries/support organisations and academics can create and share knowledge with potential to enhance sustainable success for SMEs in international markets.

The mechanisms through which a firm becomes international are well known, yet research shows that many firms find that building confidence and capabilities can be as problematic as dealing with exchange rates, freight forwarding and export guarantees. From that starting point, the group enjoyed an afternoon of lively conversation and shared narratives, and collectively generated a series of issues on which to build an agenda for future engagement, research and collaboration.

Participating were 13 entrepreneurs, four representatives from three intermediary/ support orgnisations, six academics and three doctoral researchers.

 

Enablers and barriers to internationalisation

The first set of issues emerging from the group conversations concerned enablers and barriers to internationalisation.

Home country enablers were reported as: institutional factors such as government programmes, availability of financial support, services provided by private and public sector intermediaries or support organisations, and availability of knowledge. Company/ firm enablers mentioned included, having:  product, technology, or firm expertise; financial and digital capabilities, capability to access and understand information on international markets, and having a wide network and established product and corporate reputation in the UK.

International/ foreign country enablers,included having people in the right places such as culturally aware contacts (Chinese students was mentioned by one participant), access to the overseas networks of UK institutions, universal standards, internet and digitalisation beyond the home country (including understanding search engines), cultural awareness and experience, being aware of trends in international markets and industries, and interaction at international trade fairs.

Barriers to internationalisation within the home country  were reported as: risk averse boards, parochial organisational culture, shortage of experienced human resource, financial resources and managerial time, and lack of support for development of young and new companies. Conversations revealed a long list of barriers stemming from the international environment and the firms’ own difficulties in knowing how to overcome international institutional and cultural barriers. Factors mentioned included: regulations and regulatory compliance and bureaucracy: risks (including IP, currency, corruption and general uncertainty); knowledge on where to go for support and market intelligence; understanding the fit between the the firm’s capabilities and scale and scope of opportunity; and problems associated with logistics. It was pointed out that many enablers can also be barriers and a “double-edged sword” for internationalising firms.

 

The lived experience

There was a general concensus that some of the biggest challenges stem from how we as human beings respond to internationalisation as a lived experience.  One participant described the feeling as “being comfortable with being uncomfortable”.The group discussed this as being about learning to understand cultural differences and breaking cultural barriers as well as creating business relationships while feeling out of one’s comfort zone.

Another participant expressed fustration that examples of internationalisation provided by supporting bodies are about the most successful firms whereas she felt it was important to understand the complexities of the process, the hard work that goes into it and the failures that firms experience along the way. An issue that came out strongly from conversations was that widespread negative reporting in the media about international business and political issues is creating a very difficult atmosphere for firms trying to engage in international business.

ABOVE: Balloons and stones – discussing the barriers and enablers of SME internationalisation.

ABOVE: Balloons and stones – discussing the barriers and enablers of SME internationalisation.

 

Where do we go from here

In the concluding conversation the group explored areas identified by participants as deserving attention from service providers such as intermediary organisations, support organisations and universities. In summary the main themes identified were:

  • Support for the SMEs in the ‘middle bit’, after the start-up phase
  • Need to share positive and successful stories of internationalisation
  • Need to share non-traditional success stories including the honest reality and hard work
  • Learning-by-doing, and learning-by-engaging in, or constructing communities of practice
  • How to change attitudes about culture and diversity at home and abroad
  • Making international connections and networking (crossing cultural and institutional barriers and mindsets) at home and abroad
  • Extending the multicultural university experience to local business communities.

The team would like to thank everyone who participated and aims to continue the conversation towards building a research agenda to better understand how confidence, capabilities and connections contribute to successful SME internationalisation.

Please send any comments to: m.v.jones@sheffield.ac.uk or melanie.hassett@sheffield.ac.uk

Thank you to the Sheffield University Management School Research Impact and Stimulation Fund for enabling this sandpit to take place.

 

PICTURE CAPTIONS:

ABOVE: Capturing experiential knowledge. The stickers on the world map illustrate locations where workshop participants have done business.

ABOVE: Balloons and stones – discussing the barriers and enablers of SME internationalisation