I’ve written about my dad in this blog before. He sadly died last year, a few months after his ninetieth birthday. He had left school in 1941 when he was fourteen. He worked first for a small engineering company and then, after national service, for most of his working life in a textile factory. I remember visiting as a small boy, and what sticks in my mind is the vastness of the weaving shed, the noise of the enormous rug looms and the huge number of people working there. When it closed in the economic crisis of the 1970s he went onto another textile factory, which in turn closed. His was a twentieth century working life: he moved from school to relatively secure employment in heavy industry. It’s a pattern, and an economy, which has disappeared – as we know only too well in South Yorkshire.
Successive waves of economic, social and technological change have transformed workplaces and entire regions. The twenty-first century economy is turning out to be radically different from the twentieth century economy. Increasingly, investment is shaping a world which is digitally-led, where advanced technologies pervade every aspect of life.
Universities are at the heart of this new economy. They lead the research and innovation ecosystem, broker the exchange of knowledge and educate highly-skilled graduates whose capabilities are essential in a knowledge-led society. The workplace – as we all know – has already been transformed by technologies and will continue to be transformed. The twenty-first century needs advanced skills and innovative thinkers – which is why university systems have expanded around the world. One of the major challenges for us all in higher education is to find successful ways to close gaps between research and application, between innovation and implementation, between academia and industry.
I’m proud that Sheffield Hallam is a university leading the way in addressing these challenges. This week we are running a programme of communications and engagement to highlight our work in this area – with the accompaniment of a twitter hashtag, which is, inevitably #DrivingFutureEconomies. We are focusing attention on the work Sheffield Hallam is doing which will help ensure that the economy is supported by a skilled workforce and energised by cutting edge innovation.
Our work includes technology transformations in critically important parts of the economy. We work with companies, from small to large, collaborating to develop new processes, products and innovations. For example, we worked with Tinsley Bridge Ltd to develop a novel heat treatment that improves the strength and toughness of their products. Our work with industry leaders including Gripple and Rolls Royce covers training and innovation, knowledge-exchange and productivity improvements.
Our designers, engineers, health and wellbeing researchers have worked with Sheffield Children’s Hospital on new technologies, including a bespoke face mask for newborn babies with breathing difficulties. We are the largest single educator of new employees for the NHS in the country, and we aim to educate them in ways which equip them to be active leaders in health innovation.
The Sheffield Innovation Programme (SIP) is a highly successful regional initiative which is stimulating business growth through bringing together SMEs and academia. Providing access to experts and facilities through bespoke research and innovation based consultancy, workshops and events.
Our National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering, for which a new building is being completed at the Olympic Legacy Park, is an important example of the way the University is driving economic futures. As an industry, food is bigger than the automotive and aerospace industries combined. Our centre will be a national focus for training and development in the industry as well as a catalyst for innovation, forward thinking and problem solving. It already undertakes training, development and research to develop new and improved approaches to food manufacture, including challenging problems in the development of lower salt and lower fat food products. It is at the centre of an expanding network of business, industry groups, academics and engineers, working together to solve specific business challenges across the sector.
Changing economies: on the left, the textile factory my dad worked in for thirty years, on the right, Hallam’s new National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering
These are practical successes which flow from the work of an imaginative university working with partners. These partnerships feed through to every part of the way we work, in research and teaching. Our students undertake over 25,000 placements with employers every year. Our business school is one of the UK’s largest, and its students offer their skills to local businesses through free consultancy, contributing more than £1.7 million to the regional economy through consumer research, product design ideas and marketing solutions.
Our graduates provide expertise to drive the region’s economy across a broad range of businesses. Many stay in the region and begin working for companies like WanDisco – now based on the digital campus next door to the University’s city campus – and Sumo Digital who are key players in Sheffield’s thriving creative and digital sector.
There’s good evidence that successful economies around the world increasingly depend on successful universities. This means that universities must be able and willing to drive future economies by linking research, innovation, teaching and entrepreneurship, working in open collaboration with partners. #DrivingFutureEconomies showcases some of what we do. Integral to our Transforming Lives strategy is a commitment to do more.