“As a growing SME, investing in leadership skills is vital.”
Dr Alex Mardapittas is the founder and chief executive officer of Powerstar, a market-leading smart energy solutions manufacturer based in Sheffield. The company has an employee on the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship and has also recruited students through the RISE scheme.
What does your company do?
We design and manufacture a range of hardware and software that optimises and improves the use of electrical power in commercial and industrial sites. From battery systems and efficient transformers to ways of using renewables on site, our products help businesses reduce their energy costs and achieve net zero.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I lead with my passion for the sector, the business, and its mission. In an SME it is important that everyone is working toward the same goal, pulling in the same direction, so I try to make sure we have a clear vision and understanding for the business, and each team member’s role within it.
Why is now a good time to invest in leadership training?
It’s always important to invest in training. When businesses like ours grow organically, leadership can be an area that’s lacking. We’re a highly innovative engineering company, so we have brilliant technical skills, but leadership is something that comes less naturally — and needs to be worked on.
What challenges are you facing as a business?
We’re trying to double the size of the business in two years. The biggest challenge is people skills. As we rapidly expand it’s important that we have the right people in the right positions, as well as asking our existing employees to work in a different way. So, investing in leadership training is vital.
Why did you choose Sheffield Hallam as a training provider?
We’re a Sheffield-based business and have close connections to the city. It’s very easy to work with Sheffield Hallam — there’s a single point of contact, and they understand business.
What differentiates Sheffield Hallam from other providers?
It's not an academic training — it's applicable to the business world. You know the training is going to have an immediate impact on the business, which is what you need when you’re expanding. The language is accessible, and the content can be applied straight away.
Why have you chosen a degree apprenticeship programme?
A degree apprenticeship is a very complete package, so rather than simply targeting particular elements it covers everything, providing prolonged, sustained development for the employee. It also allows them to achieve a personal goal by gaining a degree qualification.
The apprenticeship also means our employee is not taking lots of time away from the business, and they can put their learning back into the company straight away.
What benefits does an apprenticeship bring to your business?
As an SME we have to be reactive, responding to customer requests in a flexible way. But that can sometimes come at the expense of a more strategic overview of the business.
As we grow the business and assess new opportunities in the marketplace, we need to think in a more proactive, strategic way, and that’s what this training helps to establish.
How have you tapped into more short-term resources from Sheffield Hallam?
We took on a placement student, who brought in skills that we didn't have in the business, specifically doing video work in the marketing team. They came to work for 100 hours on a specific project, and they created work in a professional way that we couldn't have done ourselves.
Following on from the success of the placement, we decided to use the RISE scheme to recruit a graduate full-time.
What are the benefits of the RISE graduate scheme?
It provided a way of matching graduates to our needs. The RISE team are excellent at reaching the right candidates.
The graduate we recruited is now a key member of the marketing team, working on a lot of different topics, increasing our in-house capability, and beginning to take more ownership and responsibility in their area of expertise. It’s great to have another young and innovative member in the team to do things differently.
Would you recommend using students to other businesses?
Absolutely. Taking on a placement student is well worth doing. I think a lot of businesses think it might be more effort than it’s worth, training someone for 100 hours’ work, but if you can identify a specific project in the right skillset you get out far more than you put into it.
I’d also recommend the RISE scheme. We’re doing it again this year. The team at Sheffield Hallam are very easy to work with and have the right skills to interact both with us as a business and also the students.