Transforming the education sector

    Andrew Powell, CEO of The Training Room, talks to Tim Wickham about the company’s aim of being a ‘social impact business’ that helps kick-start young people’s careers.

    Andrew Powell’s army life taught him many things, including what it takes to be a good leader. He joined the Royal Corps of Signals straight from school and spent many years as an electronics engineer, then a further five years serving with the elite SAS. He won rapid promotion and was one of the army’s youngest staff sergeants at 26. After serving in Bosnia, the first Gulf War and many other global conflict zones, he decided to pursue a business career. “The military taught me that as a leader, you are here to serve. Good leadership in business is all about the way you support your team, local community, and your customers. That’s what I try to do here,” he said.

    Before joining The Training Room in 2014 he was global chief operating officer for FTSE 250 company Colt Technology Services. “The education sector offers me an opportunity to do something where I feel I’m able to make a difference,” he said.

    Full career service

    Powell’s enthusiasm is evident as he describes The Training Room’s aims. The company provides a full career service to predominantly young people. As well as training, it offers loans for courses and even guarantees students will get a job interview.

    Powell summarises the company’s strategy as ‘10:10:5’. “We want to have helped 10,000 students into work, generate circa £10 million profit as a result, all over the next five years,” he said.

    He appears to be on course. In 2016, The Training Room supported over 3,200 students in the UK, and 83% of those who graduated found jobs. The company has 150 employees, with 80 at its head office in Poole, 30 in Portsmouth, and the others based around the UK at 28 training centres. Annual turnover is currently about £9m.

    The Training Room’s founder, Jonathan Davies, set up the business in 2006. He continued as a non-executive director until Powell led a management buyout from Davies and Lloyds Development Capital in 2017. “Jonathan is brilliant at business start-ups and felt it was the right time to sell. I was brought in to take the company to the next level,” said Powell.

    Fit for work

    The Training Room began by training mainly 18 to 30-year-old men, from predominantly under-privileged backgrounds, to be personal trainers. More recently they have seen an influx of women into the industry. “A qualification gives people who might otherwise be written-off by society a professional start,” said Powell. “Most of the UK’s major gym chains partner with us and pledge to offer job interviews.”

    Powell and his team then looked at other sectors where demand for ‘entry-level talent’ was growing. Next up was a beauty therapist qualification. “We believe we are now the UK’s largest provider of Level 3 diplomas for personal trainers and beauty therapists,” said Powell.

    The Training Room also runs IT training, and courses in health and social care. It is preparing to launch courses for event management and teaching assistants. The company is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority to provide student loans. “I think we are the UK’s only training provider that also offers private, regulated finance,” said Powell. “We recognise that some students might find it hard to fund their studies. Our ethos is to make sure we really look after our students.”

    Global outlook

    Powell recently signed a major contract with consultancy giant Tata Consultancy Services to provide content for its online education platform in India, called iON. The India platform has around 65 million users and operates with about 33,000 education establishments in the country. “We are Tata’s anchor provider in the UK. Our UK educational content will sit on the iON platform and we will be launching UK education and qualifications to the under privileged and impoverished in India in 2018,” said Powell.

    Beyond the UK and India, Powell and his team are looking at opportunities in the Middle East, South America, the Far East, and European countries that have high rates of youth unemployment. “We want to use technology to be the ‘Amazon of the education sector’ by connecting young people easily and cost-effectively with careers, through education,” said Powell.

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    The Training Room: No 54

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