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Blog: The Stage is Set

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  • Picture of Robert Ashton
    Robert Ashton
  • Education
  • Social enterprise

If you want something out of the ordinary it makes sense to look somewhere out of the ordinary. That is what happened on a Thursday evening in early March at the Mercury Theatre Colchester. It was the launch of the Swarm quest to find and support the 1:100 young people who have the attitude it takes to make a difference to an employer’s business.

The evening was also the first in a series of three (Ipswich on Tuesday 8th March & Norwich on Thursday 14th April) events staged in partnership with the RSA, Swarm having secured a Catalyst Scaling grant late last year.

As with all the best theatre, the stage is clear, but for the cast. The audience filed in, eagerly anticipating what they were about to witness. Some were RSA Fellows, others local employers and some were young people who’d bounced around the FE sector and now wanted something better suited to their desire for accountability, experience and a qualification that does not require them to spend weeks in a classroom. 

I knew it was going to be a good evening when Ecky Prolingheuer arrived. Community Manager for Emmaus Colchester he stood out from the crowd. Orange hair and matching trousers rather upstaged my often flamboyant attire. Here I thought is a man who, like me, challenges the status quo for good reason.

After setting the scene I handed over to Swarm MD Chris Perry. He took to the floor and clearly captivated the audience, striding purposefully across the stage to make his point. Swarm is no easy ride for a young person and those employing Swarm apprentices need to be prepared to be challenged. As George Bernard Shaw once said, all progress depends upon unreasonable people and that’s exactly what Swarm is all about.

Alistair Heron, Partnerships and Business Development Manager with Swarm’s Essex partner Colne Housing gave the event some local context. ‘Colchester is an enterprising place,’ he explained, ‘so a town where Swarm’s enterprising approach is bound to win favour.’

But for me, as Swarm’s founder, the highlight was talking with three young people I hope will become Swarm pioneers in Colchester. One dropped out of College; another dropped out of university because of a health issue and the third, there with his dad, just wanted an opportunity to prove himself. I could see that all three had that enterprising spark. I look forward to seeing them come alive once we get them placed with an employer and the Swarm programme starts.

There’s still time to book. Here’s a link. We are also looking for business focused Fellows to mentor our Swarm apprentices in Colchester, Ipswich and Norwich.

Email me to find out more. Robert@swarmapprentice.org.uk 

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  • Thanks Robert - looking forward to seeing you talk at the upcoming TEDx on Education in Norwich! This piece caught my attention because your title is actually a line in the poem I'll perform on the day :)


    On youth employment: recently I was interviewed for an academic research project exploring 'precarious ways into employment' for recent graduates, like me. The interviewer didn't know what to make of the fact that I went from a secure job into precarious self-employment (currently building a portfolio career) not because I couldn't get a job, but because I'm happier and doing more through working on various projects serving different groups of people, on my own terms. 

    Now I see it's not a lack of employment opportunities that's the problem (oh, boy, IS there work to do!) but it's that I was (and I imagine many students are) being educated into believing the best we can be is a highly paid, high status employee. Young people can do more than that, way more. And we need them to do more too, but it won't come in smart 'job title' type boxes - it'll come via things like what you Robert are creating. 

    I'm doing something similar for students like me who don't have 'attitude' (I'm quite the opposite of 'attitude') but I do care deeply about our world, am introverted and was considered academic at school. These kinds of teens are beginning to find my work and ask me questions like 'How do I deal with incompetent teachers?' - which is a fun can of works to consider! If anyone want's to weight in, here's what I said.

  • Dear Robert:  

    You might find recent data from The Economist of interest.

    It shows that in Britain in 2014 about 13% of the population aged between 15 and 24 were NEETs, not in employment, education or training.

    This confirms my view that a top priority for RSA should be to address the lack of employment opportunities for young people.  Their anger and frustration may explain in part their support for terrorist groups such as ISIS.

    I support your enterprise.