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

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.

Student insight: Studying Operations and Supply Chain Management, a Rolls-Royce sponsored module

August 14th, 2017

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Hannah McLennaghan, a recent graduate of our BA Business Management with Employment Experience, discusses her experience on our Rolls-Royce sponsored module. First published on our Undergraduate Blog.

“I’ve been looking back over everything I have learnt across my degree and all my best bits. For me, my most challenging yet rewarding module was my second-year Supply Chain Management module. This was a core module at the time and made up of a group project and a written exam at the end of the semester. The most amazing thing about this module was that it was sponsored by Rolls Royce! This meant that senior industry professionals from the company were involved in the creation/ structure of the module content and the assessment. The group project was our way of applying the theories we had learnt throughout the module, to a real life business.

“Our task was simple; generate a 10-year operations and supply chain plan for one of 4 companies in the aviation industry; Rolls-Royce, Pratt and Whitney, Airbus or Boeing. My group chose Pratt and Whitney, a major competitor of Rolls-Royce. Each group member was given a director role within the company: Director of Operational Design, Planning and Control, Enterprise Resource Planning, Manufacturing Operations, Supply Chain Management and my role which was Director of Quality Control and Total Quality Management. Working collaboratively, we analysed the company’s current situation and how the market was operating. Using the theories, we had developed during the lectures, some of which were given by Rolls-Royce executives, we applied it to Pratt and Whitney to generate a plan for their future operations. Although this may sound complicated, it was incredible to take on a task that felt so real! It was also the kind of thing I’ll have to do when I graduate and work for a real company so it was really great practice.

“Our plan was assessed through a written report, and a formal presentation to the module leaders from the University of Sheffield, and senior executives from Rolls-Royce. This was the starting point for me developing my presentation creation and delivery skills which I am now extremely confident in thanks to all the chances I have had to practice during my degree. My group’s hard work finally paid off when we were awarded second place for our 10 year plan out of the entire module! This meant we were presented with the Rolls-Royce Academic Award of Excellence, something that looks INCREDIBLE on my CV, and I have found that employers just love it in interviews. To have my academic work accredited by senior professionals such as Ian Shellard – Director, Global Physical Logistics, Rolls-Royce, is a great talking point that really makes me stand out.

“This is just one example of the way Sheffield University tries to link the theory of management studies to a real industry organisation. It was a strong turning point for me in becoming a more practical learner, which also gave me a greater confidence in my own academic and business operational ability.”

 

Note: After reviewing the programme in 2016, this is now a third year module which involves company visits and applied case work. Click here to read more about it.

Putting words into action – sale of text-to-speech start-up linked to Sheffield MBA director

July 20th, 2017

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Dr Vasilis Theoharakis proves that tech start-up deals don’t always happen in Silicon Valley.

As director of the MBA, Vasilis hasn’t only built up an exceptional programme of experiential learning for students – he’s putting the relevant skills and theory into practice. A recent article by leading industry news site TechCrunch covered the sale of text-to-speech start-up Innoetics for whom Vasilis created the advisory board – he also managed part of the negotiation with buyer Samsung.

Innoetics’ product is ideally suited for application on intelligent interfaces, such as Samsung’s Bixby which works much like Siri on Apple products, or across other consumer electronic products and voice-powered services.

After starting his career in tech at IBM, Vasilis is now involved with a number of start-ups and does have links in Silicon Valley. He is a member of the management team at a prominent venture capitalist fund which provides seed money for the sector and passes his knowledge on to Sheffield’s MBA students who frequently interact with businesses and entrepreneurs through modules or the Career Accelerator Programme and Leadership Dinners. He said: “My experiences with companies like Innoetics ensure that I’m still at the sharp-end of business so our MBAs benefit from a realistic, up-to-date view of entrepreneurship and the start-up eco system.

“I make sure that our students put these learned skills into practice through the programme – it’s exciting to see their knowledge and abilities develop in this area via modules such as the New Venture Planning Challenge.”

This project-based core module, delivered in the second semester of the MBA, sees students work in groups to create a business plan and pitch it to a team of investors. Each team is mentored throughout by Vasilis, who guides them on selecting an entrepreneurial idea which leads into a comprehensive, fully-researched plan and presentation.

Vasilis concluded: “Entrepreneurship is one of the three key stands of our MBA programme – alongside leadership and consultancy. It’s a key skill, whether within an organisation or setting up on your own. I’m proud of what our MBAs go on to achieve and that my experience has contributed to their future.”

 

Click here to read more about the Sheffield MBA.

Click here for the full TechCrunch article.

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

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

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.

Ongoing growth in graduate employability at SUMS

July 7th, 2017

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Annual figures from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education have shown further success for Management School graduates.

Of our most recent UK undergraduates to enter the labour market, 87% are engaged in activities for which a degree is essential, a three per cent growth on last year’s results. This figure also demonstrates a 10% jump over three years in this area*.

Merryn McGregor, Employability Manager at the Management School, said: “We’re very satisfied with the 2015/16 results. It’s reflective of our ongoing commitment to building the employability of our students.”

The survey also reports 96% positive outcomes for our students, which relates to graduates in any positive activity six months after graduation.

Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching, Dr Robert Wapshott, said: “These are very encouraging figures, testament to the hard work of Merryn and her team. The School’s Employability Hub goes from strength to strength and its ongoing efforts are mirrored by the success of our graduates in a competitive market.”

Students: Click here to find out more about building your employability at the Management School.

 

* 2013/14 Graduate Prospects figure: 75%

Building employability through learning and teaching: Laura Dean awarded

July 6th, 2017

Laura Dean, a university teacher in work psychology at the Management School, has been awarded a university award for Outstanding Practice in Learning and Teaching.

As one of 13 winners at the Faculty of Social Sciences’ Teaching Excellence in Social Sciences (TESS) awards, Laura was commended specifically for building students’ employability through classroom learning.

Nominated by the Management School’s Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching, Dr Robert Wapshott, and Dr Carolyn Axtell, Laura’s work on devising mock assessment centres embedded in the curriculum of two modules.

Laura’s innovation sees MSc Occupational Psychology students design and deliver an assessment centre of the type final year undergraduate students may encounter as part of a job search – it has occupational relevance for the Masters students as many will begin their careers in such roles.

After organising activities, preparing paperwork and taking on administration for the day, they act as assessors for second-year undergraduates taking our module in Career Theory and Practice. The environment is made as realistic as possible so that both groups get to experience the pressure of an assessment centre and identify any things which may impede their performance in a real assessment situation.

Feedback has been very positive. MSc Occupational Psychology graduate (2016) Jack Cousins, currently working at Saville Consulting as a Consultant Analyst, said: “The opportunity to both design and run an assessment centre was crucial in deciding to pursue my current role.”

The undergraduates have the opportunity to practise being assessed and receive feedback on their performance which they find highly beneficial. 84 % said they agreed or strongly agreed this had helped them prepare for selection events, while 98 % agreed they were glad they had opportunity to take part.

As her prize for winning this award, Laura received a certificate and a £500 prize to support future learning and teaching.

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

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

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

Comment: Reflecting on a workshop on Post-Brexit Industrial and Regional Policy. By Professor Sumon Bhaumik

June 9th, 2017

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In March, Professors from the University of Sheffield (Sumon Bhaumik (pictured above), Heather Campbell and Philip McCann) sat around the table with peers from Aston (David Bailey) and Warwick (Nigel Driffield) Business School to discuss post-Brexit industrial and regional policy. They were joined by representatives from regional bodies, trade bodies, and the private sector including representatives of Oxford Economics, Performance Engineered Solutions Ltd, Sheffield City Region, South and East Yorkshire Federation of Small Businesses, South Yorkshire International Trade Centre, The Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire, and West Yorkshire Combined Authority.

The view about the likely impact of Brexit on trade, investment and corporate performance was mixed. The private sector view emphasized the positive economic news in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, and the ability of the private sector companies to strategize better for Brexit, which is expected at this stage, than for the financial crisis of 2008, which was unexpected. There was general consensus that the significant depreciation of the pound sterling could spur exports and firm performance, at least in the short term. The impact of Brexit on onshoring was also viewed as a potential opportunity, especially for SMEs. There was some optimism about UK’s ability to strike trade deals relatively quickly with countries from the Middle East and Latin America.

This optimism was tempered by the uncertainty about the new trade deal between the UK and the EU. In particular, there was concern among some workshop participants about the impact of the loss of single market access to the organisation of supply chains, and the implications of imposition of tariffs on industries such as automobiles whose components crossed UK’s international borders a number of times before they are used in the final product. The discussion, however, suggested that divergence between EU and UK regulations, especially about rules of origin and product standards, could pose a greater challenge to businesses than tariff barriers. The difficulties of contract enforcement in an environment of diverging regulations was also highlighted, and there was some concern about the general impact of Brexit on bureaucracy about all matters related to cross-border transactions. It was also felt that while any dip in the UK’s ability to attract FDI in the short run would recover, it might not recover to the pre-Brexit trend.

There was general consensus around the table that if the Brexit deal restricts free movement of labour, skill shortage – indeed labour shortage for some sectors such as agriculture and hospitality – might prove to be the biggest challenge facing UK businesses, in particular, those in the Midlands and Northern England. It was argued that, to begin with, there should be closer cooperation between the universities and the private sector to ensure that the labour force of the future not only has high levels of skills but can also adapt quickly to the rapid changes in technology that are manifested through increased use of AI and robotics. The panel was also mindful of the need to shape labour market policies in a way that facilitates inclusive growth in the future, such that post-Brexit policies and private sector performance have the necessary democratic legitimacy. Further, some on the panel felt that policies regarding skill development should be devolved to the regions that have greater understanding of the skill requirements of the local companies.

Many on the panel felt devolution of the power to the regions would enable policies better suited to local economies in post-Brexit UK. In particular, it was felt that, given the heterogeneity in the industrial composition of the regions that make up the UK, it is imperative to seek their views before any new trade deal or industrial strategy is finalised. Some on the panel voiced concerns about lack of engagement with central government to date to discuss the regions’ trade and industrial policy needs. Some felt that elected mayors might be able to better negotiate with the central government, and that they would also be helped by access to greater financial resources. However, it was also felt that regions would have to cooperate – for example, within the framework for the Northern Powerhouse – rather than compete for resources within a zero-sum bidding framework.

Paucity of time left some issues undiscussed. In particular, future discussions would have to reflect on whether effective devolution of economic power to the regions requires that they be given the power to borrow to invest in physical and human capital. This, in turn, would require a discussion about the financial infrastructure, such as a “muni” bond market, to facilitate such borrowing. Issues such as these, as well as discussion of policies formulated by the individual regions, are expected to be part of ongoing discussions involving the stakeholders represented at the workshop.

 

This workshop has been supported through The University of Sheffield’s ESRC Impact Accelerator Account