A training provider specialising in science, Brighton-based Youthforce was founded in 2005 by Chief Executive Officer, Charlotte Blant. As a small company, there was a need to develop ‘all-rounders’ who can understand how the business works end-to-end and bring new talent into its senior leadership team.

Charlotte recognised the potential in Georgia Widdowson, who held a role in the operations team. Georgia had not had the opportunity to go to university as part of her education and Charlotte felt The Open University Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship would be the perfect fit for the business’s needs and Georgia’s personal development.

Charlotte said: “I think the degree apprenticeship is the ideal way of developing Georgia’s management skills because the timing was perfect for her. She’s done lower-level apprenticeships, she’s grown with the business already and she’s the raw material waiting to happen. She’s really grown and sped forward since she’s been on the programme. It was good to give her a challenge, motivate her and give her a little bit of a push up to the next level.”

Degree apprenticeships are an exceptionally good fit for SMEs in particular. An SME gets to see the immediate impact of what apprentices are learning and what they’re doing, and can put it into practice right away. You’re developing someone that can understand how the business works, end-to-end and so they can lend their hand to just about anything, which is what an SME needs.” Charlotte Blant, CEO, Youthforce

Since starting the programme, Georgia has been promoted to a management position and has taken a leading role in the company’s finance and strategy.

Georgia explained: “I was promoted to Operations Manager around the start of the year. I think again it probably relates directly to what I’ve been doing on the degree apprenticeship. Everyone around me seeing my changes in thinking and thinking at a higher level, and being able to look at things more critically.”

“An SME gets to see the immediate impact of what apprentices are learning and what they’re doing, and can put it into practice right away.”

Open University apprenticeships are supported by a Practice Tutor, who works closely with the apprentice and the employer. The Practice Tutor follows the apprentice through their degree apprenticeship programme. They support them regularly meeting apprentices in their workplace, meeting with their line manager, providing them with ongoing support, as well as also tutoring them for their work-based modules as part of the programme.

Georgia’s Practice Tutor, Nick Boston, explains: “The Practice Tutor model is different from usual academic learning in the sense that it’s much more individually tailored. As a Practice Tutor, I’m working with individual apprentices, supporting them in their reflections on their management practice and helping them to apply their learning to their very specific work situation. As Practice Tutor I work with both the apprentice and the organisation through the regular review meetings, but also in between times, to check how that 20% off-the-job time is going. I’m able to support Georgia and the organisation in identifying opportunities for her to access different aspects of the organisation’s business to give her the work-based experiences she needs to complete the programme successfully.”

“My Practice Tutor, Nick, comes in and we have reviews and he’ll meet with me and Charlotte and discuss my progress. It’s really nice that I know that Nick is on the other end of a phone or I can pop him an email. Nick’s been really supportive. I think it’s nice that even though a lot of the delivery is online you do have that one person that comes in and you can have human interaction. Having a friendly face to speak to really reassures you.” Georgia Widdowson, Operations Manager, Youthforce

Charlotte summarised the impact the apprenticeship has had for Youthforce: “I’ve seen Georgia grow in lots of ways. I’ve seen her take on new challenges that she might not have taken on before, for instance, around finance. She’s become part of our senior leadership team and she’s started to challenge people. I think her confidence has really grown since she’s been doing the degree apprenticeship and I’ve seen her in meetings speak up. She’s always known those things, but now she feels she’s got the theory to back it, and the confidence to back it, and is a lot more assertive in how she comes across. People really respect her. I’m a card-carrying apprenticeship fan. I think it changes people’s lives.”