Small businesses have just as much to offer graduates as international conglomerates

April 11th, 2016 by

Lindhurst Engineering has forged a strong relationship with the University of Nottingham and its students.

You’re a small company that has just had a great idea for a new business venture. Only one snag: no one in the company knows anything about the technology. What are the chances of finding an expert locally with just the skills you need who is crying out for a chance to apply them?

Pretty remote, you might think? Not if Martin Rigley’s experience is anything to go by. Admittedly Mr Rigley is something of an expert in developing new engineering talent. He was recently awarded an MBE for his efforts, and was named Skills Champion of the Year in the Semta Skills Awards 2016.  

As managing director of Nottinghamshire bespoke engineering firm Lindhurst Engineering, Mr Rigley has a strong relationship with the University of Nottingham.

“We regularly take business students on work experience,” he says. “Then in 2009 we identified an opportunity to create a modular system to generate energy from waste using anaerobic digestion.

“Nobody here had much expertise in the subject,” he continues. “So I asked the university if they knew of anyone and they sent Laura Porcu, who just happened to be doing a PhD in anaerobic digestion.”

It was a perfect match. Lindhurst and the university formed a partnership and having completed her PhD Dr Porcu now works for the company full-time.

With substantial funding from the EU, Lindhurst is now preparing to build demonstration units in the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Spain to show potential customers what it could do with their waste ice cream, vegetables, beer and other organic materials.

“Without Laura’s specialist knowledge we couldn’t have done it,” says Mr Rigley. “Then the university started finding other PhD students for us. We had Sandy Lamond who was researching the economic viability of anaerobic digestion plants, and others working on specific processes such as pathogen kill and nutrient transfer.

“The great thing is that everybody gains. Universities want to form this sort of relationship with businesses, we need the knowledge, and the students need the experience. All it takes is someone to join the dots.”

Most of Lindhurst’s senior managers and technical specialists are educated to degree or HND level, and Mr Rigley believes smaller businesses (SMEs) can offer just as many graduate career opportunities as international conglomerates.

For a start, there’s an interesting and varied menu of work. As well as its ‘bread-and-butter’ business of one-off fabrication engineering jobs, Lindhurst projects have included a five-storey-high rotating statue in Liverpool, part of an exhibit in London’s Millennium Dome, and a full-scale replica of a Dambusters bouncing bomb.

“If you want to learn fast, work for an SME,” adds Mr Rigley. “You wear so many hats and get involved with so many things that you learn really quickly. We can make things happen quickly, too. If you have a bright idea it doesn’t have to go through layers and layers of management approval before you can put it into practice.”

Lindhurst regularly provides work experience to students at all levels from school Year 10, recruiting apprentices through to PhD. Who knows – one of them may be about to come up with the company’s next ‘big idea’.


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