Swarm Apprenticeships Wins £50,000 Grant From Norfolk County Council

Local social entrepreneur and business author Robert Ashton has set up a new organisation to help very small businesses take on their first apprentice. Swarm Apprenticeships Ltd is a social business, established with a grant of £50,000 over two years from Norfolk County Council.

Swarm is a membership organisation that creates clusters of enterprising apprentices working with small businesses that want to grow. Each cluster will be centered on a market town, so that both businesses and apprentices can work together as a group.

Swarm will employ the apprentices, freeing member businesses of much of the bureaucracy often associated with apprenticeships. Each Swarm group will contain ten businesses, ten apprentices and see the training delivered locally by City College Norwich.

‘Our apprentices will work towards an enterprise qualification,‘ explained founder Robert Ashton. ‘This means they will be commercially aware; working with their business owner to cover their costs as quickly as possible. Employing an apprentice should be a smart investment, not a hard-to-justify cost’, he added. 'We plan to work with each business and apprentice to measure that return on investment.'

Swarm's business model is unique. Other 'group training agencies' focus on groups of large businesses, for example a cluster of manufacturers working in the same area and similar industry sectors. There the apprentice wage is marked up to cover running costs.

In Swarm's case, the cost of running each group, supporting the businesses and youngsters will for the first few years be covered by sponsorship. Orbit Housing are sponsoring a group being set up in Watton, and Victory Housing are sponsoring groups in Fakenham and Sheringham.

The first Swarm group is being recruited in Watton right now. The apprentices will mostly be drawn from Wayland Academy and work with businesses in and around the Watton area. City College Norwich will deliver the apprenticeship training in Watton rather than Norwich. This means less travelling for the apprentices. It also means that the businesses they work with can take part, sharing their experience and providing real life local case studies.

‘I think it is wonderful that Norfolk is leading the way in this new initiative,’ said Michael Rose, Head Teacher at Wayland Academy. ‘We have masses of untapped potential in our young people waiting to be released and realized - this project is a significant step in that direction.’

Businesses taking an apprentice under this new scheme will pay Swarm just the cost of their apprentices’ wages, that’s £111.60 per week for a 16/17 year old (based on the National Minimum Wage from October 2013). Swarm’s running costs, which will include working with the businesses individually and as a group, are being sponsored (by Orbit Housing in Watton, and Victory Housing in Sheringham/Fakenham).

‘We see this as a fantastic opportunity to grow businesses and jobs for young people in a town where we provide a significant number of homes,’ said Tom Llewellyn, Orbit’s Community Investment Officer. ‘Our sponsorship means that businesses literally just pay the wage of their apprentice. All the support and back up is covered by our investment.’

Swarm officially launched at Wayland Academy during National Apprenticeships Week. To find out more or to get involved email robert@swarmapprentice.org.uk


1. Swarm will be both a ‘Group Training Agency’ (GTA) and an ‘Apprentice Training Agency’ (ATA), to enable participating businesses as much financial help via grants as possible. Eligible businesses can apply for the National Apprenticeship Service’s £1,500 Apprentice Grant for Employers (AGE) - subject to availability - after three months. There is also a Norfolk County Council grant available for certain businesses of £3,500. These can bring the cost of the apprentice over one year to just £2553.24. Find out more about grants here

2. The apprentices will be aged 16-18 and earn the October 2013 national minimum wage for their age (not the apprentice wage) for a 30 hour week. This will include training time. It will be possible for the apprentices to work paid overtime. (The minimum wage for apprentices from October 2013 is just £2.68 per hour). Those aged 19-24 can also take part in the scheme via swarm’s Work Club.

3. All Swarm apprentices will work through a new, innovative qualification. ‘Level 3 Diploma in Enterprising Skills in an Business Environment’ apprenticeship. 

4. The Norfolk County Council grant will cover the set up costs of the new organisation and cover insurance costs.

5. Participating businesses and their apprentices will be encouraged to measure the financial costs and return. It is anticipated that at the end of the year, each apprentice will transfer employment from Swarm to the business they’re working with. Many of these jobs will be new, having literally been created by the apprentice.

6. Unlike many traditional apprenticeship providers, Swarm is business not training provider led. All businesses taking an apprentice will become members of Swarm who will employ the apprentices on the members' behalf. This takes away the bureaucracy, assoc and risk.

7. Business members of each Swarm group will meet monthly to review progress and explore how the apprentice's training can be best applied. The focus will be on growing the business, so that within a year the apprentice transfers from Swarm to the direct employment of the member. This will happen because we will work hard to make sure, and measure, the financial return on investment by the small business. 

Share this

Gold Patrons & Strategic Partners