Top quality graduates from the former USSR are available to work without pay as part of their course at Manchester University. This offers companies the chance to make valuable contacts.
Diarmaid Fleming reports.
Harnessing the skills available in Russia and the former Soviet states and combining them with progressive business expertise could prove a magic formula for economic success in that area.
At the Manchester Business School (MBS) in Manchester University, the Managers' Training Programme (MTP) is part of a European Union funded initiative to give talented young managers from a number of former Soviet states experience of working in a western business.
The course has just accepted its latest batch of recruits from the Western Steppes and beyond.
Run across the EU, the MBS has operated the scheme in the UK since it began in 1999. Engineering organisations and companies including the Highways Agency, Jacobs, Scott Wilson, Jarvis, Amec and Mowlem are among those who have taken part in the past, but more are invited to get involved.
Course manager John Yates says that the calibre of graduates is very high. 'Degrees in the former USSR are often of a higher standard than those in the UK or EU. Those selected for the MTP are motivated people with attitude and are picked because they are open-minded and receptive to change. Their standard of education is excellent. It's translating the theory into practice which can be the challenge, ' says Yates.
Formal classes take the students through the two or three month programme about the UK business environment, which for some coming from as far away as Siberia can mean a huge change.
Placements with companies then follow, where students generally work on a particular project. All accommodation is arranged by the course: companies are asked to provide suitable project work and mentoring and are not required to make any payment for participation.
Scott Wilson business development manager Neil Robertson says that the scheme benefited both the consultant and its MTP student, Irina Dolzhenko from Krasnodar in southern Russia who now lives in Moscow.
'We were able to assign a complete project to her on housing which would have been difficult to complete ourselves because of people's commitments on jobs. The course seems to select high calibre people who are free thinkers and who will take ideas and a western business approach back to their home country, ' says Robertson.
'The advantages for us were the independence of attitude that someone from outside brings, and it was fascinating to learn about her country and how business is done there.'
Dolzhenko said that working directly with a UK firm gave her experience of different business approaches which would not be possible back home. 'It was like a time machine: working in a mature market such as the UK gave me a chance to compare the way business is done in Russia, and helped give me an understanding of how market trends may develop there in future, ' she says.
'There is a much more systematic approach to doing business in the UK, for example dealing with clients, and even the conduct of meetings which are minuted and actioned. It is a lot more informal in Russia.
Within construction, women in Russia generally do not occupy senior positions and are limited to marketing or specialist roles like architecture. Women in the UK have a more active role in decision making within companies, ' she said.
While the kudos and skills offered by the course often mean new jobs and dramatic salary increases for students on their return home, Yates says that there can be significant benefits to employers too. Relationships developed from the MTP can provide firms planning to expand eastwards with valuable contacts in new and sometimes strange markets, he says.
'Over the years, relationships have been fostered. The economy is picking up in Russia again, and many construction opportunities are likely. Having a contact in the market can be a very valuable asset along the way to establishing a successful operation in an unfamiliar market, ' says Yates.
Further details on www. tacis-mtp. org or www. mbs. ac. uk/programmes/ edc/mtp/index. cfm or contact John Yates on jyates@mbc. ac. uk