Leicester City Graduate Project earns FSB local government prize

A flagship internship scheme encouraging students from Leicester’s two universities to stay and work in the city after they graduate has been recognised as one of the best regional initiatives at a national award ceremony.

Launched in 2020 as part of a coalition between University of Leicester, De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) and Leicester City Council, the Leicester Graduate City Project (LGCP) scooped the top prize in the East Midlands Best Future Ready category at the inaugural Local Government Awards, created by the Federation for Small Businesses.

The initiative provides second-year students with six-week paid internships within industries facing high-skill needs. More than 100 students and small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) have worked together across industries including low carbon, manufacturing, professional services, textiles, and retail.

Tom Ledgard, head of placements and graduate outcomes at the University of Leicester, said: “All partners have worked tirelessly to encourage new employers in the city to benefit from supporting the project. We wanted to increase the number of organisations employing students and graduates and use it to spur more companies to consider recruiting future talent from the local universities.

“The project has worked directly with more than 100 local employers to date in a bid to raise awareness of support to help find employees of the future and other areas. This is further consolidated in the Civic Universities Agreement, making a commitment to sustaining the long-term support businesses can access.”

Zul Muhammad, regional skills officer at DMU who was part of the team leading the project, said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to have won this award. This is a testament to the hard work that all three partner organisations have put into this project, as well as all the SMEs and interns that have participated.

“This project allows SMEs to meet and work with a diverse range of talented students, which in turn helps them with their business needs. The feedback from both the local SMEs and interns has been great and, having led the project for the last two years, it feels amazing to have won this award.

“The project has definitely had a positive impact on both the interns and their employers.”

The LGCP looks to build on an Economic and Social Impact Report published by the University of Leicester in 2020. The study revealed that only 23 per cent of students choose to settle in Leicester after they graduate. 

Feedback from students who accessed the LGCP showed that 78 per cent would stay in Leicester after graduation following their internship. Confidence about the number of local job opportunities in a student’s preferred sector raised from 54 per cent to 81 per cent, and 81 per cent said that the programme had been extremely, or very, useful in shaping skills and career plans. 

While the scheme has been designed to encourage graduates to consider employment in Leicester, it has also been used to understand local SMEs’ needs and what they expect from an internship.

Many of the businesses which engaged in the scheme during 2021 had never recruited a student or graduate before and six were micro-businesses established during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The FSB Local Government Awards were created to demonstrate how local authorities can create an environment where SMEs can grow. 

Since its launch in September 2020, the LGCP has consulted with more than 500 local small and medium-sized enterprises across Leicestershire.

The project is receiving £840,000 of funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) as part of the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme in England.

Established by the European Union, the ESF helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support skills development, employment and job creation, social inclusion, and local community regeneration.

Charnwood Borough Council, West Northamptonshire County Council and Lincolnshire County Council were among the winners in the East Midlands.