It was back in 2015 that I successfully pitched the social enterprise I’d founded, Swarm Apprenticeships, for an RSA Catalyst grant. I’d founded the venture in 2013 because I was angry that even today, bright kids slip through the education system. I wanted to provide a third route, between the academic university degree and trade apprenticeship.
We focused on smaller employers and each and every apprentice had a work related project that gave them the opportunity to measure their impact on the business bottom line. This both reassures the employer and boosts the young person’s confidence.
Our experience is that this approach can transform young lives. Many have, with our support, gone from dead end jobs to roles with real responsibility. A number have even taken the plunge and started businesses of their own. It’s a delight to see them grow.
Winning the RSA’s first £10,000 Catalyst grant marked a turning point in our journey. We used the money to stage some events, at which both we and some of our early learners spoke about the Swarm experience. Those events saw us recruit new employers in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.
Of course the money was important. But looking back, the fact that we’d won the grant was seen by many as an endorsement. ‘If the RSA take them seriously, then so should we,’ seemed to be how people were thinking. Swarm has been steadily growing ever since.
Earlier this year we successfully applied to join the Government’s register of apprenticeship training providers. This means we can now work with larger employers, accessing funding from their apprenticeship levy payments. You can also be an apprentice at any age now, so we’re starting to deliver leadership qualifications, particularly to those leading change in the third sector.
Big Issue Invest supported us in our early days and right now we’re negotiating with social investors willing to fund our continued growth. The future looks exciting, but I doubt would have been possible without that RSA Catalyst grant.
To learn more about Swarm Apprenticeships, follow this link.