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Startup Secret Weapon 

Iwan Griffiths, MSc Business Careers Consultant at Aston University shares his experience of sourcing work experience opportunities with business start-ups

Here’s the problem
Most established employers target undergraduates for their work experience opportunities, through 1 st year insight programmes, 12 month industrial placements or 3 month Summer vacation schemes. Masters students are often seeking internships or voluntary projects, particularly from Easter onwards when formal teaching has ended on many courses. For international and EU Masters students, many already having internship experience, this may be their main chance to get work in the UK. They are keen to put into practice knowledge and skills developed on vocational and non-vocational courses, and often need relevant experience to go with their postgraduate qualification. At Aston Business School MSc students can complete a Term 3 work experience project as part of their credit-bearing Professional Development Programme. We have plenty of students seeking work experience, and need roles to match demand.

Here’s a potential solution
Working with students on Masters courses in business subjects for several years I’ve found there are employers keen to make use of the maturity, advanced skills and experience of this group. For short term internships or voluntary projects these opportunities are often in the third sector, in established small businesses or companies with niche skill requirements such as data analytics, strategic marketing or project management. But the ‘new kids’ are business start-ups, generally within one or two years of launch, which need innovation, strong tech. skills and a level of self-confidence that postgraduates have plenty of. At Aston Business School, 2017 has been a bumper year for getting MSc students work experience in start-ups with over 50% of opportunities for this group being with businesses in their first stage of development. The opportunities often come through word of mouth, but we have also started running Meet Aston events at our local innovation centres, providing the opportunity for start-ups to network and find out more about the full range of business support our university offers.

What do start-up employers say about taking on MSc students?

Manjeet Sidhu, Tech & Digital Founder at Scoutt - Donor Management Software has been working with postgraduates from Aston Business School for over a year, and has this to say

Masters students come to us with a range of different interests and from diverse backgrounds, bringing new ideas in business management and exposure to different cultures across Europe, the Middle East and Asia – vital to any start-up with global aspirations! In exchange, we offer exciting project management and on the job training opportunities that genuinely add value to their CVs, and make them attractive to future employers. To date, ABS students have helped us carry out market research, manage online promotional campaigns and plan an event for over 300 guests as part of BBC Digital Cities Week 2017.

Janet Wang CEO of Dipsta.com, a new generation “Win or Buy” marketing and e-commerce web and app platform has this to add

Postgraduate students have a natural affinity to the start-up phenomenon - they are curious and eager to get the insider view and therefore are naturally motivated when they join us. They come with positivity and creativity which are the essential ingredients to the start-up culture. The students appreciate the fact that they can put their ideas into action, with some mentorship and guidance but without corporate hierarchy, and they can be immediately accountable for their contributions. For us, this is great too as we need people with a “can do” attitude who will just get on with making things happen, while learning and adapting quickly.  

What about the downsides? Start-ups operate on a shoe-string and are unlikely to be able to fund paid internships in their early stages of development. This means that any voluntary projects need to be kept short and focused. As with all SMEs, start-ups need self- reliant students who can make an immediate impact – this type of environment suits some, but not all MSc students.

What next if you want to use develop work experience with your local start-ups

  • -Talk to Masters students who are already working with start-ups. What’s their experience, and how have they managed their projects?
  • -Build up short case studies to illustrate the kind of projects students joining start-ups work on. At Aston we are working on these.
  • -Talk to your local innovation centre manager and other start-up groups about opportunities for networking with start-ups.

The secret of business start-ups as a source of work experience for postgraduate students is out…but don’t tell anyone!

For more information on this article contact Iwan Griffiths, MSc Business Careers Consultant, Aston University at i.griffiths@aston.ac.uk