A fair share

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A fair share
They've been around for a while, but Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Rebecca Green looks at what they have to offer the food industry in terms of increased productivity and profit

Recruiting the right person for the right task can be a difficult and expensive business, so the promise of someone that can not only carry out the job in hand but also increase company profits might sound too good to be true. But that is what Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs), a business support solution from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), claim to offer.

A KTP is a three-way set up between a company looking to develop new strategies or deliver a specific project; a further education college, university or research organisation (known as the knowledge base); and a recently qualified individual, known as the associate.

Through using the individual's skills and knowledge transfer, KTP matches the right companies with the right candidates; individuals who can embed an innovation culture within the company, as well as improve systems and processes.

During a partnership, which is part funded by the government and part by the company (at a ratio dependent on company size) one or more associates are employed to work on a project, lasting from one to three years, supported by the knowledge base, which brings its own experience to the project.

Virtuous circle

Those behind the scheme say KTP creates a virtuous circle: the associates get hands-on experience of working on a business project; the knowledge base increases its commercial experience; and the companies are able to recruit high calibre individuals, who are supported by a resource of industry experts.

According to DTI research from 2003, the latest data available, one KTP project alone can increase profits before tax by over £220,000, as well as create jobs; raise the overall skills of those involved; and encourage a culture of innovation and collaboration among partners.

One company that has recently benefited from such a project is privately owned Tims Dairy, based in Chalfont St Peters. Tims worked with the University of Reading's School of Biosciences and KTP associate Maribel Jarque, who has an MSc in food science, to develop a range of new dairy products using organic and non-dairy ingredients like soya.

Tims now has a greater understanding of scientific application, for example shelf-life control of bio yoghurts, which has opened up new market opportunities, says md Chris Timotheou. "The KTP project was extremely valuable to us as a small company," he explains. "Having a qualified associate dedicated in one area enabled us to leap forward quickly in our technical department and expand into new product development. We were able to demonstrate to potential new customers our in-house resources, and had allocated time to review our own existing products."

As a direct result of the KTP, Tims says it was able to develop several novel dairy applications to factory production level, including gelatine-free products, organic toddler yoghurts and cultured creams. The implementation of improved quality assurance systems also led to it attaining the higher-level accreditation of BRC standards, which have now been embedded into company culture.

Changing cultures

Having identified a gap in the market for wheat-free products, biscuit and oatcake manufacturer Simmers of Edinburgh, best known as the makers of Nairn's oatcakes, also called upon a KTP to help it exploit the opportunity. Because, as md Mark Laing explains, while the business was successful in taking existing products and improving them, it was "not particularly good at developing new product leads"

A project was developed with Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh, and KTP associate Corinne Dalaudier, through which Simmers was able to launch a range of wheat-free biscuits under the Nairn's label.

One variety has already been recognised as 'Best Special Dietary Product' at the British Quality Awards, and the range, which Simmers says is selling well in the UK, is now being launched in the US and Canada. "For us, it could not have come at a better time," says Laing. "The KTP project has changed the culture and thinking in this company. We have a more scientific, analytical approach. We are now much more geared up towards new product development."

According to the DTI, which with sponsors last year gave £23M to KTP projects, every £1M of government investment in KTP equates to: £3.3M increase in yearly profits before tax; the creation of 77 new jobs; and 263 company staff trained. Most associates are offered full-time jobs in the companies. FM

For more details, log on to http://www.ktponline.org.uk

Home grown talent lets production flow for scottish water company

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) can be a useful tool in helping companies meet growing demands, as one Scottish company demonstrates.

Following the success of two earlier KTP projects, when mineral water producer Highland Spring wanted to improve the effectiveness of its new £6M bottling lines it turned to a KTP project with Strathclyde University and two associates.

The first associate led a £95,000 investment in a supervisory control and data acquisition system to collect data. But collecting data alone would not have driven improvements, so the second associate led the introduction of a continuous improvement system to help staff interpret data and tackle problems.

"The KTP was extremely beneficial, rewarding and valuable to the business," says operations director Wylie Woodburn. "Highland Spring continues to benefit as all were retained on a permanent contract at the end of their projects."

The company claims that profit increased by £500,000 during the programme and operational improvements reduced waste by 5% and increased productivity -- raising line speed by 43%, and reducing line downtime by 31% to increase turnover by £11M.

And the associates themselves both benefited, gaining level four NVQs in management as well as securing full-time positions.

Dr David Brown, manager of the West of Scotland KTP Centre, believes the growth in the number of UK partnerships, which has risen from 500 10 years ago to 1,005 today, is because academic and business sectors are more willing to work together than they used to be. "They are saying: 'Let's not let our assets leak abroad, let's use them in our own companies'," he says. "There's great expertise within higher education that companies should be tapping into to use within their businesses."

Related topics: People & Skills

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