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72. Evaluation of the RISE Enhancement Project

Sheffield City Council commissioned Kada Research to evaluate the RISE Enhancement project, part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and delivered in partnership with the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University.

Thousands of highly skilled individuals graduate from Sheffield’s two world-leading Universities and from University Centres in Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster each year, but data from a LEP survey shows many SMEs miss out on their talent, skills and innovative thinking, with only 15% of South Yorkshire’s microbusinesses and 20% of small businesses employing graduates.

The RISE Enhancement project used ERDF funding to help SMEs in South Yorkshire access and employ the region’s graduate talent, building on the forerunner RISE project. Greater financial support was made available in priority sectors and more emphasis was placed on driving business growth through graduate recruitment. SMEs were supported to develop graduate recruitment capability and capacity and given greater visibility in the graduate jobs market.

The project’s aims of supporting business growth through graduate employment align with ambitions set out in both national and local plans, which seek to improve productivity and innovation, by better exploiting increased skills in the workplace. The project also supports levelling up by retaining graduate talent which might otherwise be lost to more prosperous areas of the country.

The evaluation assessed the success of the project in meeting its objectives and delivering its targets, in the context of the labour market turbulence experienced during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. Kada used a combination of desk research, analysis of project monitoring data, online research with participating businesses, qualitative interviews with stakeholders and case study SMEs, and a review of economic and wider impacts and performance.

Kada found the RISE Enhancement project was successful in engaging SMEs who do not regularly recruit graduates, raising awareness of the benefits, and providing them with the skills and capacity to become successful graduate recruiters. Although the number of graduates moving into work through RISE was lower than had been planned prior to the pandemic, the project provided a huge and lasting impact to SMEs who recruited and retained new graduate employees, generating substantial business and commercial benefits.

SMEs told of their new graduates thriving in the workplace, and contributing significantly to company capacity, productivity and, in turn, company growth. The project generates substantial economic benefits for the South Yorkshire economy and provides good value for money. Whilst the current funding stream has come to an end, the evaluation found that continuation of the RISE project would be beneficial, particularly given its alignment with the regional focus on raising productivity and the national levelling up agenda.

“The RISE Enhancement project evaluation showcases its efficacy and value to the region’s business base. The project both stimulated demand for graduates amongst the SME base in South Yorkshire through the engagement of new to RISE business and articulation of the benefits of graduate recruitment, as well as increased supply by making SME opportunities more visible to graduates and helping to retain those who might have otherwise been lost to South Yorkshire. The strategic model is suitable and has been a success.”

Bridget Bradbury-Hickey, Project Manager

“The end of ERDF funding means partners need to think carefully about how to allocate the resources available to support businesses and encourage productivity growth. Our evaluation of the RISE Enhancement project demonstrated the substantial economic benefits that it delivered, and highlighted the key features which helped it to reach businesses that do not regularly recruit graduates and equip them with the skills and capabilities to become confident graduate recruiters in future.”

Cassie Houlden, Project Director

If you are thinking about commissioning an evaluation study or would like to talk through an idea or hear about this piece of work, you can contact us at art or the project director Cassie Houlden at cassie@kadaresearch.co.uk.