16 October 2016

All businesses run in cycles, just like in nature where seasons dictate the colour of the leaves and speed of growth. Business is remarkably like nature in this way.

UKFast Code Club helps youngsters learn programming whilst having fun at the same time

UKFast Code Club helps youngsters learn programming whilst having fun at the same time

It’s impossible to keep growing without taking time to breathe and reflect, to see what we can do better.

We have been very fortunate recently, growing at an incredible pace, and whilst it’s difficult to slow something down that is accelerating naturally, I can feel my instincts leaning towards training and the future investment needed in expanding our team.

You can’t keep growing without planning and preparing for the future.

This week we announced the acquisition of the building next door. It was an incredibly exciting moment; it is a necessary addition to the UKFast portfolio and ensures we have a roof over our heads for the imminent future.

But the building is only one of a number of areas where, as a tech company growing at pace, we have to invest. It is essential we keep abreast of best practices when it comes to employing and developing our team too.

Ten years ago we began a journey with director Aaron Saxton, working to shape the curriculum in ICT. Realising that the kids coming out of university and school were significantly less equipped for the commercial and tech world than a decade earlier, we started working to see if we could help bridge the gap.

I found myself in meetings with business and council leaders where it was more frequently the topic of conversation. But instead of people responsibly looking for an answer, everyone just moaned.

When I decided to do something about it, I remember people mocking me and pointing out our naivety. “One business can’t make a difference,” I was frequently told by prominent entrepreneurs.

Never one to give up, we started one classroom at a time.

In many ways, these people were right however, roll on 10 years to now, and I have to pinch myself when I see what the team at UKFast are achieving.

We now work with 57,000 school kids and more than 40 schools. We have written our own MSc in eCommerce and Cloud Computing at Manchester Metropolitan University. We have more than 50 apprentices and we are regarded as a top 100 Apprentice employer.

We have been recognised as a Star Code Club, the highest accreditation possible, for the work we are doing encouraging youngsters to write and experiment with software. We have five full-time teachers now, and we even have a programme to train the teachers in education to help them get up to speed with the latest technologies. We fund a number of schools with Raspberry Pis and have even kitted out whole classrooms when we found out that the kids don’t have any computers both in the UK and abroad.

Yes, we started out as one, but now we are many. The pebble we dropped in the pond rippled in every direction and there is a wave of support for the great work our team are doing.

One person can make a difference in all sorts of areas of life when they believe in something. Ever heard of William Wilberforce? Ever heard of Nelson Mandela, Lady Diana, Florence Nightingale? Whilst I don’t deserve or expect to be listed amongst great names like these, I merely use them to highlight that throughout history, when people believe strongly enough in a cause, great things can happen. It’s not the work of the one person, it’s the momentum that’s created by the overwhelming support of a proud and passionate nation that takes pride in doing the right thing.

Britain is full of wonderful people who want to see our nation improve but, whatever we do, we have to ensure that the next generation is prepared and there is no point pretending that things are OK.

I heard Lord Nash speak last week and he explained that Britain was 22 out of 23 countries in the education league tables. Changes were made to make the exams seem more effective but actually they hid a multitude of sins. It’s up to us to ensure that we get our education sector back on track.

As a business owner it makes sense. It’s all too easy to say it doesn’t concern me, I can get by, but actually by engaging with the schools around Manchester we now have a number of kids that came in on work experience at the age of 14 that now work for us full-time. One in particular is running a department and, at 24, is proving to be invaluable. He, like a number of them, came through our apprentice programme.

But just like when you plant a seed, you can’t come back the next day and find an oak; we have to be patient and create the right environment, conducive to growth and development.

Growth, whilst incredibly exciting, brings with it enormous responsibilities and challenges. It’s very easy to ignore the detail when growing at pace, but I believe it’s this investment in the future of our kids locally that will not only inspire our youth, but also one day hopefully inspire other business leaders to get more actively involved.

Government can’t do it on their own and, actually, they are now proactively looking for help from the business community as they see value in the two sectors coming together and working collaboratively. It’s an exciting time and whilst we are a long way from the promised land, I can’t help feeling we have turned a corner and there is huge support gathering.

If you are interested in getting involved with a school or even a group of schools, get in touch with me, I want to hear from you. I am organising an event with Lord Nash and some key people from government and the education sector along with great case studies like the awesome Tom Bloxham MBE who is a pioneer in this field. Come and hear how you can help and make a difference.

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