2021 has been a year of extremes for Mesma. Arguably, so is every year when you work in a small business, but it’s fair to say last year the highs were higher and the lows were lower than any other year I can remember. If there’s a greater test of professional resilience than riding the wave of ‘nearly’ that comes with small business ownership I haven’t found it yet; that 5% you’re away from an Innovate UK grant, that funding round that changes course at the 11th hour. You get the picture.

As a provider of quality assurance software and support services, our main customer base operates in the education and employability sectors. We help our customers focus their attention on doing what matters most, for the people who matter most to them.

Their organisations have been at the sharp end of the Covid impact. We’re acutely aware of this, asking ourselves more than at any other point in our business growth ‘what do our customers need at this time?’ In 2021, sometimes our offer was exactly what they needed and at others it wasn’t. It’s reminded me that understanding the value of our products and services is the acknowledgement that of all the plates our customers spin, there are times the plates we help to keep in the air are simply not the most pressing ones to avoid crashing to the floor.

Isn’t that true customer focus? Recognising when to step to one side? Or just be available to talk to people who need to offload without expecting a sale at the end?

Overall, we leave 2021 in a good place; I need to remind myself of that more often. Therefore, the only resolution I’ve made and plan to keep in 2022 is to give myself time to be grateful for my lot.

So, let’s start now with those 2021 ‘highs’ in mind. I’m immensely grateful for the faith placed in our team which allows us – from our roots in the northeast of England – to punch above our weight throughout UK and Ireland. Here are a few of the organisations I’m grateful for enabling that success. I’d encourage you to look at what they do, they’re an inspirational bunch.

We embarked on exciting projects throughout 2021, customising the Mesma QA platform in new and innovative ways. This includes building the T Level Planner on behalf of the Association of Colleges and Department of Education for colleges, schools and training provider, and supporting The Growth Company manage the self assessment to accreditation journey for the NCVO Trusted Charity Standard. Our relationship with Skills Development Scotland is a source of pride for our team.

Strategic partnerships have continued to flourish during the pandemic out of both necessity and opportunity. The work we’re doing with SDN, Sub-10, Cognassist, Psych-Logical, QA Services and the Institute of Employability Professionals will remain a key focus for us in 2022.

My gratitude extends to every college, training provider, university, employment support provider we work with. We never lose sight of the trust they place in us and for that I am eternally grateful. They are the bedrock of what we do and why we do it.

My final source of 2021 gratitude relates to the decision we made to undertake a complete upgrade of our software platform to meet the diverse needs of our growing customer base. Being blunt, it’s been a difficult, stressful process but one of which we are deeply proud. The result of that challenging work will launch this month with Mesma Generation II available to the market. It wouldn’t have been possible without our own team and delivery partners at Greenlord Studios, Codification and Edot3, and the continued support of NEL Fund Managers and RTC North. Thank you.

 

Looking ahead to 2022

In amongst the product launches and business development activity, I look forward to 2022 with a key question in mind.

What sort of business do we want to be?

It is one thing to grow a business, it is quite another to know what you want that business to stand for; how you live and breath your values as an employer of choice. In a highly competitive recruitment market this is a necessity to attract, retain and grow the best talent.

What I do know is that we’ll start 2022 as we mean to go on, supporting the very organisations who are our own customers by creating more apprenticeship and youth employment opportunities as we scale, and continue to bang the drum for other businesses to do the same.

So here are three asks I have of you to consider this year.

Firstly, next time you recruit for a new role, ask yourself why an apprenticeship isn’t the right recruitment strategy to use. If you can’t come up with a good reason, then take the next step to making it happen.

Secondly, sign the Good Youth Employer Charter and deliver on the principles.

Thirdly, take on a T Level industry placement student or supported internship.

What have you got to lose?

Happy New Year everyone.