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Now, perhaps more than ever before, we need our young people to take control and shape their career success. Founder of social enterprise Swarm Apprenticeships and recent Catalyst Award winner Robert Ashton FRSA believes that RSA Fellows can play a key role making that happen.

The reality is that most UK businesses are small, responsive to their marketplace and employ just a handful of people. Unable to see the value of hiring an apprentice to do any more than follow a trade; these businesses are often limited by their owners’ lack of spare time to grow them. 

Swarm can recruit, develop and support young people to grow their employers’ businesses. They can either following a recognised enterprise apprenticeship, or have enterprise training ‘bolted-on’ to a trade apprenticeship. Add business support and help in measuring the employers’ return on investment, and you can see how Swarm grows both businesses and new jobs.

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to share your experience with the young people Swarm develops. As an RSA Catalyst Award winner, Swarm welcomes opportunities to introduce those who’ve succeeded in a business community, with those preparing to be the business and community leaders of tomorrow.

As Swarm’s founder and an experienced social entrepreneur Robert Ashton FRSA believes passionately in creating local solutions to local challenges. Sitting back and leaving it to the Government can disempower, demotivate and disrupt the very grassroots activity we all know deep down is the best and most cost effective way to deliver sustainable, positive change.

Yet despite all the Government rhetoric about Localism, the Chancellor’s recent Autumn Statement made it clear that big business is expected to provide the solution to our growing youth unemployment problem. Yet by far the greatest opportunity is for the 83% of SMEs who currently don’t take on apprentices to do just that!

Swarm Apprenticeships launched in Norfolk in 2013 when Robert Ashton realised that too many young people living in rural areas fell down a gap between university and trade apprenticeships. Bright, but perhaps not academic, they wanted more than just to learn a trade; (indeed it was into this very gap that he fell himself 45 years ago)!

Swarm uses enterprise qualifications to help young people deliver their employer a demonstrable return on investment.  In other words, their training embraces a work based project that enables them to apply their learning to a something that delivers profit.

A grant from Norfolk County Council, sponsorship by three local housing associations and investment by Big Issue Invest enabled Swarm to pilot an innovative SFEDI Level 3 enterprise apprenticeship.  Many of the pilot group came to Swarm because they were under, or unemployed. Several had completed College courses and many had the grades to go to university.

But all wanted to find their own way in the world, doing meaningful jobs with local organisations. All were willing to take responsibility for making a difference and growing a better future for themselves.

One of the group felt stuck in North Norfolk unsure what to do with his career. Swarm matched him with a progressive holiday cottage company where he quickly made his mark. A few months after completing his 

apprenticeship, with the full support of his employer, he applied for and secured a job with Google at Kings Cross. He freely admits that without Swarm, he’d still be at a loose end.

Yet the Chancellor’s recently announced that all employers with annual wage bills in excess of £3m will pay a ½% levy to fund apprenticeship training. This together with the Apprenticeship Trailblazer programme that seeks to create a suite of homogenous apprenticeships for specific job roles clearly overlooks where the real opportunity lies; right under many of our noses, away from the main centres of population.

It was the unique approach that Swarm takes that caught the eye of former Skills Minister Matt Hancock MP. He was impressed that by using existing funding more creatively, Swarm stood out from those who simply seek new funding for new ideas; something virtually impossible as austerity continues to define Government policy.

Swarm’s successful Catalyst bid creates an opportunity for RSA Fellows living in Eastern Region to play a part in boosting local economic growth whilst reducing youth unemployment. With a track record of success in Norfolk, Swarm launches early 2016 in both Suffolk & North Essex.

In Suffolk, the initial focus will be to strengthen the local supply chain of a major local retailer. Swam will support a group of young people, each seconded to a local business, to grow that supplier’s turnover with the retailer. This will benefit the retailer, supplier and of course the young person, who will quite literally grow their own job.

In Colchester, support from a local housing association, Colchester Borough Council and a number of active small business networks will see a cluster of enterprising young people grow there.  This group, literally a ‘swarm’, will work together to grow the local economy and with it, their opportunity to progress,

The Catalyst project will launch with business events, in Norwich, Ipswich and Colchester, where local employers, RSA Fellows and young people can discover how together, they can play a part in growing their local economy.

Perhaps you're interested in Fellowship or are a RSA Fellow looking for an inspiring enterprise to support - this is your chance. Swarm is recruiting a growing number of young people who can benefit from your experience!

Robert Ashton FRSA is a social entrepreneur, author and active campaigner. He is also founder of Swarm Apprenticeships.,


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