Addressing the youth skills gap

Tom Hickman founded graduate coaching business The Bridge after struggling to find talented young staff for a previous company. SmallBusiness.co.uk talks to him about his efforts in starting up.

How did you get the idea?

Previously I was running a media licencing business and a key challenge was finding smart young employees to help me grow the company. I didn’t want to pay a recruitment firm so I put adverts on job websites and just got deluged with bad CVs. I thought the way young people were applying was just so wrong.

It was obvious to me why so many young people were struggling to find work and at the same time my business was suffering because I couldn’t find good talent quickly enough. I wanted to solve two problems, the problem for companies and the problem for young people, in a way that was commercially sustainable. We now have a group of successful entrepreneurs, academics and psychotherapists, to equip graduates with the necessary skills to succeed in today’s business world.

How did you finance and market it?

When approaching investors it was important to me to find people who really shared the interest. I spoke to a range of entrepreneurs and investors and managed to raise £100,000 in equity finance.

On the marketing side, I used a partnership model to build exposure. We’ve done a lot of work through networks of schools, universities, and SME networking groups to get the word out. We’ve shunned traditional advertising and tried to get face-to-face with as many prospects as possible through events and delivering programmes.

What is the competition?

In the higher education sector, a lot of universities are becoming aware of the need to enhance their offer. There’s internal competition in universities and like any industry that’s effectively privatised lots of new models start to come up, programmes like the New Entrepreneurs Foundation. As more and more parents question the cost and ROI for university, they’re looking for programmes that are more personalised and more linked to employment.

What do you think about the government’s push for companies to take on apprentices?

We’re definitely behind it, but there’s a limit to what the government can actually do. Entrepreneurs are busy people and they hate bureaucracy. Although the apprentice scheme is a great initiative, anything that comes from the top down like that never quite hits the needs of businesses. Companies need things like national insurance breaks, things that are simpler to understand and give clearer benefits.

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Graduates

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