Gaining work experience alongside academic studies seems like solid careers advice, but it is an adage that Dr Anthea Gregory knows first hand to be true.
"I did a business degree and partway through I wondered what the relevance was of what I was studying. Then I did a work placement and it all became very clear. It was the opportunity to put into context the theory which made me realise the value of what I was learning," she says.
Now as the new Dean of the University of Wolverhampton Business School (UWBS), Dr Gregory is keen to ensure real experience forms a key part of the programme of education for today’s students.
"Ensuring businesses are engaged with our curricula will give students a sound understanding of how the theory is applied and the issues businesses are facing in the current, and future, environment. It is that ability to apply what they are learning that will make them stand out when they embark on their careers."
Anthea took up her post at Wolverhampton in December 2010, but the move marked a welcome return to the city. She was Associate Dean of Postgraduate and Professional programmes at UWBS from 2000 until 2003, before joining the University of Hull as Head of the Scarborough Management Centre in 2003.
She went on to become Director of Learning and Teaching where she had responsibility for taught provision, before assuming the role of Deputy Dean in 2007.
"There have been many changes over the last eight years, the key one being the Business School’s move to Wolverhampton city centre. This makes us more visible and has improved access to facilities for students.
"Working from the City Campus also provides greater opportunities to work with other Schools in order to maximise our impact. Other developments such as the Business Solutions Centre at Wolverhampton Science Park allow the University and its partners to provide access to integrated business services. There is a real focus for business now."
The Business School aims to ensure its graduates offer the complete package. The undergraduate and postgraduate portfolios have been revalidated to ensure they reflect the needs and demands of the changing business world.
The School also has relationships with professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and wherever possible has sought recognition or accreditation for its programmes to ensure they meet professional standards.
It is difficult to escape tales of the competitive nature of today’s jobs market and the squeeze many businesses are feeling, but Anthea has some clear advice for students.
"Students need to seize all the opportunities they can to build their CV during their time with us. At the University of Wolverhampton there are so many extra-curricula activities students can engage with from volunteering, through to study abroad options, as well as engaging with societies and sports clubs. In this way students can make themselves stand out. It is not just about having a degree any more – it is about how you build on that while you are at University. It is about being able to demonstrate the skills and competencies, as well as the knowledge, that an employer wants."
Making the most of the opportunities available also opens up avenues for paid employment, and again this is something Anthea knows from experience. Following the work placement during her BA (Hons) Business Studies degree at Sheffield City Polytechnic, the company took her on as an employee and she went on to become the highest paid graduate from her university that year. The role, working for entrepreneur Chris Finnegan at his cake manufacturing business, inspired her later research interests.
When Anthea moved back into academia to study for a PhD at the University of Leicester, she decided to investigate business start-ups and the reasons for success and failure. Her expertise lies in entrepreneurship and small business management – subjects that continue to interest her today
."What excites me about the study of business is the real difference it can make to society. If we can improve the practice of management then not only will businesses be more successful but it will improve the quality of people’s lives. We probably all spend more time at work than with our friends and families, so work has to be a positive experience. It is the practice of management which determines what our experience of work will be. Businesses are not impersonal entities – they impact on communities, customers, as well as employees."
It is possibly this philosophy that leads Anthea not to name a famous millionaire business mogul as her hero when asked who she admires.
"It would be easy to identify someone high profile, but I admire the person whose name I don’t know who has kept a business going through adverse times. Small businesses are the engineers of job creation and innovation. So my heroes are those individuals who are employing themselves, their families or even 10 or 20 people but who make their businesses work, sometimes against the odds."
Looking ahead, Anthea explains there are three key areas for UWBS to focus on. Firstly, she is keen to concentrate on the learning experience, pushing forward the business agenda so students have access to managers and businesses throughout their studies. This will be achieved through guest speakers, internships, live company projects as well as manager/student mentoring schemes such as a current project the School is running with the Institute of Directors (IoD).
Secondly she hopes to broaden business engagement, ensuring the University is providing resources that businesses want, such as training, consultancy and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.
The third strand is research, building on the success of the University in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) 2008, which highlighted a number of areas that are world leading. Anthea emphasises she is keen to contribute to new knowledge that makes the University of interest to business, focusing on applied research that can influence the way companies operate.
Anthea has high hopes for UWBS and the students and staff that people its corridors. And despite what the news may seem to say about the state of the economy and employment opportunities, Anthea says the future is bright for tomorrow’s hard-working and enthusiastic graduates.
"It is not all doom and gloom in the jobs market, but it is about making sure you are better placed to be the complete package that employers want. If you are going to be the manager of the future, then you have to set your sights on that from the day you start studying."
The University of Wolverhampton Business School is keen to work with businesses in a variety of ways.
It is seeking organisations and business leaders who would like to contribute to making sure the next generation of managers are developed to the highest standards.
If you would like to discuss how you can work with the Business School please call 01902 321789 or email firstname.lastname@example.org