Case study: Learning Curve Group

As Brenda McLeish, Chief Executive of Learning Curve Group (LCG), says: “Never lose an opportunity, never turn people away. It’s all about finding the right pathway for whoever comes through your door. It’s about maximising their opportunities in life.”

It’s a mantra that has served UK skills provider LCG well in recent years as the education, apprenticeship and training provider goes from strength to strength.

To strike home the point, McLeish litters our interview with examples of individuals whose lives have been transformed by their training. Perhaps the most poignant is a tale of a young teenage mother who arrived on their doorstep. “Here was a girl who was really struggling with parenthood, had drug issues, and worked in an unseemly bar at night to try and make ends meet. We got her away from that life and put her through a military training programme. Today she is a military nurse and her life has completely changed.”

However, this is just one end of the spectrum of lives that LCG encounters every day. “At the other we are giving people level 5 management qualifications,” adds McLeish.

LCG, which operates five skill centres as well as a host of training programmes and apprenticeships for a range of industries, is virtually alone in taking such a broad approach to the sector. But it’s one that clearly works. “Most of our competitors deliver parts of what we do, but I do not know anyone who delivers the range. Our diverse portfolio also de-risks the business.”

Diversification

This diversification goes back to the time when McLeish first joined the business a decade ago. “At the time the business was dependent on further education colleges for its business, but to improve earnings it was important that we developed contracts with funding bodies direct. The challenge was then to build the infrastructure to deliver schemes such as apprenticeships while maintaining the flexibility to launch new products.”

Running apprenticeships remains a significant part of the business, and with the recent introduction of the UK government’s apprenticeship Levy McLeish sees plenty of further opportunities.

The Levy is designed to encourage businesses to use apprenticeship programmes, either for new staff or to upskill existing workers, in a bid to reduce the country’s skills gap. Businesses with a wage bill of more than £3m a year will pay 0.5% on that bill, and the aim is to fund three million apprenticeships. “There is no doubt this will be a big driver for us,” she adds.

LCG also runs three sponsored academies where it works direct with an employer to train staff at their premises. Two of these are with IT companies, and the third is with an accountancy firm. McLeish says she has noticed a “massive” rise in young people not going to university because of student fees, and believes this model will become increasingly attractive to both students and employers.

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Shift to employers

She says this is part of a wider shift in the industry away from colleges to employers as funding pots are increasingly diverted from colleges towards industry. “Employers want training providers like us to deliver tailored infrastructure for them.”

LCG’s position as a leader in the field of vocational training was cemented further by an investment from MML Capital Partners in the business in 2015, a deal on which Clearwater International advised.

The transaction enabled the company founders to exit the business and has provided the investment to develop a range of online learning courses, acquire a recruitment company, and invest further in infrastructure. “The idea has always been to create a seamless circle. The unemployed need retraining, they do an apprenticeship, and they then need to find the right employer,” adds McLeish.

She doesn’t rule out further acquisitions and bolt-ons if they bring value to the business. “We are looking at things all the time that will add to our core offering.”

However she stresses that the focus very much remains on the home market. “If international opportunities are presented we will exploit them, but it is not high on the agenda.”

Meanwhile she predicts that Brexit could have huge implications for the industry. “Because of the UK’s reliance on workers from across the EU and beyond in so many industries I believe we will have to completely retrain our workforce. The UK is going to need some serious retraining.”

Read about the latest transaction

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MML Capital Partners invests in Learning Curve Group

MML Capital Partners (“MML”) has invested into Learning Curve Group (“LCG”) after being introduced to the business on an exclusive basis by Clearwater International.

MML has backed the existing management team which has consistently grown the business throughout the economic cycle. The MML investment has enabled management to reorganise the shareholder base and provides growth capital to support the planned organic and acquisitive growth, positioning the business to satisfy strong demand from its clients in the public and private sector for successful apprenticeship and learner outcomes. LCG plans to invest in expanding its curriculum portfolio and to deliver capacity in areas such as English and Maths, programmes for the unemployed and e-learning.

Read more about this transaction.

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