7 steps successful training providers take to ensure sustainable growth.
It’s an exciting time to be running a funded training business. The last year has shaken up the industry, providing both huge challenges and huge opportunities for those who are willing to make the most of them.
We’ve seen incredible successes from providers who have read the market with insight and harnessed everything from the right people to the power of technology to create unparalleled learning environments that serve the needs of both learners and employers. These businesses have not only scaled but have, in some cases, attracted significant investment.
So what do today’s industry leaders have in common? What has helped them get to the top? And how can you emulate their success?
In this guide we’re looking at seven key factors every growing training provider needs to bear in mind. We’ve also included words of advice from our founder Heather Frankham, who scaled her first training business from one to over 1,000 staff before selling it.
Whether you’re just getting started or you’ve been in the game for a few years, it’s never too early or too late to start thinking about scaling up your business.
Heather Frankham’s scale up story
Bud Systems founder Heather started her career journey as a PE teacher before launching Lifetime Training in 1995. Over the course of two decades she built it into a market leading apprenticeship training provider that employed more than 1,000 staff, finally exiting the business in 2016. As well as Bud, she is actively involved in a number of other businesses including Origin Workspace and Paragon Skills, plus several charities with a focus on children and young people.
Prepare to scale from day one
Scaling a business isn’t something that happens overnight. But when you have the right strategy, it can happen fast. Which is both exciting and potentially high risk. Without the right foundations, growing too quickly can allow cracks to start appearing in your provision and even attract the wrong sort of attention from auditors and inspectors.
That’s why it’s so important to get the right systems, processes and technologies in place from the outset. Think about not only what you’ll need today but in one, three, five and even 10 years time. Harness economies of scale by planning for the longer term. What can you put in place today that will allow you to maximise your margins without necessarily increasing your overheads?
If you’re already several years down the line, don’t worry. Make today ‘day one’. If you’re really committed to growing your business, you need to start now.
“In my experience, as a small business, you meet most of your clients, you hear learners’ names around the office, you have a real sense of how things are going. As the business gets bigger, you become more removed from the day-to-day. So you need to be able to look at the data, make sure you’re measuring the right things, that you have those feedback loops. And the sooner you get them in place, the better.”
Understand what employers want – and deliver it
The apprenticeship levy pot stood at £2.5 billion in 2020 – The Guardian
There was a time when training providers had two groups of people they needed to keep happy – the funding bodies and the learners themselves. Employers didn’t factor as highly in the equation. After all, they weren’t having to pay for the training so they weren’t always approaching apprenticeships with the mindset of being a customer in the traditional sense.
Now, with the introduction of the levy, that mindset is shifted. Employers are looking more carefully at which training provider they want to work with, seeing themselves as having to make a better choice with “their money”.
As a result, it’s important to think more commercially about what you have to offer an employer. Whether that’s creating training programmes for high demand skills or providing the latest technology to make overseeing their apprentices as easy as possible, help employers see the value their apprentices bring.
“Focusing on the needs of the employer and the impact you’re having on their business – and understanding what your USPs are in that regard – is vital in order to be successful. Employers want value for money, they will be measuring impact and demanding more. That means training providers need to have a very different thought process and way of working compared to pre-levy days. The companies that are succeeding right now are the ones who are approaching selling their funded courses as if they were commercial courses.”
Recruit the right trainers, ones who fit your business vision
A training provider is nothing without its trainers. Which is why it’s important to choose carefully. Naturally skill and experience in their subject area and in teaching itself needs to be a big part of the mix when it comes to selection criteria. But don’t forget the softer skills too.
Your trainers need to be able to engage learners, to support those who are struggling, to encourage them to keep moving along that learner journey. They need empathy, insight and the ability to inspire.
As well as that, and perhaps most importantly as you scale, they need to believe in your vision for your business. They need to be a good cultural fit, understanding and complying with your ways of working. After all, they are essentially building the business for you.
Understand what learners want both now and in the future
In 2019, Gen Z outnumbered millennials, making up 32% of the world’s 7.7 billion-person population – Bloomberg
The world is changing quickly and each new generation of learners – from Millennials to Gen Z and even the upcoming Generation Alpha – will have a new set of expectations for their training provision.
Today’s learner is far more educated about their options when it comes to apprenticeships than previous generations. They’re skilled at search and comparison. They have access to online ratings and reviews, and they hear personal experiences from friends and acquaintances via social media.
To attract such a discerning audience, it’s not enough to offer the chance to learn and earn a bit of money while doing it. Every provider does that. That’s why it’s important to create the best possible learner experience and outcomes, from hiring the best trainers to harnessing technology in a way that these digital-natives expect.
“The training providers who have scaled successfully in the last year have done things differently, they’ve looked at what the market wanted and delivered it. Learners want easy-access, remote-access, always-on learning but also with that social element too. No one is going into a training centre 9-5 any more but young adults still want to connect.”
Prioritise evidence from day one – and every day after
Training provision relies on funding. Funding relies on evidence. Which means if you’re not keeping meticulous records, you – and your learners – could end up losing out. This focus on compliance is especially important as you begin to grow and scale.
Make sure you have the systems, processes and ideally technology in place to collate and report evidence of learning and development – not just at the size you are now but the size you’ll be in a year or five years. Remember, the faster you grow, the more questions that will be asked both by competitors and by funding bodies who have a duty to protect public money. Successful providers embrace this, understand the risks, and build quality and compliance at the core of what they do.
“You ignore the requirements of funding agencies and of Ofsted at your peril. Today’s most successful players know that you need to keep employers happy while also maintaining an equal focus on the evidence needed to satisfy the funders. You can’t grow one without the other. ‘I didn’t know’ isn’t an excuse. You have to be on top of all those things, operate within your contract, and ensure that you’ve got processes and procedures in place that ensure that you fulfill the requirements of it.”
Choose the right suppliers to help make growth easier
We’ve already talked about choosing the right trainers – they’re absolutely essential. But there are other individuals and businesses that can support your growth journey and picking the right ones is important here too.
These include technology suppliers, content providers, awarding bodies and initial assessment providers. How can each one make your life easier as you grow your business? Make sure that what they’re providing is not just high quality but flexible enough to scale.
Again, it’s important to make sure they share your vision, that they buy into it in a way that means they will be an ally in your growth journey.
“The pandemic naturally caused a lot of training providers to react in a very knee-jerk way just to keep operating. Although getting through such a challenging time is admirable, at some point you have to step back and ask yourself how you can streamline what you’re doing. How can you leverage the most benefits, for the business and for the learners?”
Remember that learner outcomes are your first priority
This last point is the heart of what makes any training provider successful. Everything we’ve talked about up until now is worth very little if you don’t genuinely have a passion for helping people to learn and progress in their career.
Learner success is the evidence that you are delivering great training and that your business has the correct moral compass. Without prioritising learner outcomes, any success you might be able to achieve will be short lived at best.
“Learner outcomes are directly linked to the value of your business. If learner outcomes drop, the value of the business drops. And it can’t just be about saying ‘Our learners think we’re brilliant’ – you need the data, you need to be able to actually bring what you’re achieving to life and demonstrate it.”
The world of funded training provision has always been a fast moving and changeable one. But with the world as a whole now changing so rapidly, it’s even more essential to understanding the steps that will help your business scale sustainably in the coming years.
In this guide we’ve looked at 7 steps that successful training providers take to ensure they achieve their goals:
- Prepare to scale from day one
- Understand what employers want – and deliver it
- Recruit the right trainers – ones who fit your business vision
- Understand what learners want both now and in the future
- Prioritise evidence from day one – and every day after
- Choose the right suppliers to help make growth easier
- Remember that learner outcomes are your first priority
Which areas do you feel most confident about? Which ones could you focus on to improve the long term health and growth prospects of your business?
Sustainable growth takes a combination of skilled people, the right systems, processes and technologies, and a mindset focused on the future, all aimed at creating genuinely excellent provision that puts learners first. If you can tick all of these boxes, scaling is virtually inevitable.
As a technology partner to the training sector, Bud Systems can support you to improve many of the essential steps listed in this guide.
- Create a consistent, easy-to-use digital learning environment that learners, employers and trainers will love.
- Empower learners to manage their journey from beginning to end, with motivational features and self-serve activities.
- Quality check programme delivery, identifying areas for improvement in real time.
- Automatically collate evidence needed to demonstrate learners’ outcomes and hit compliance targets to release funding.
To find out more about how we can help you scale your training business, get in touch with the team.
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