PM Training

PM Training

PM Training helps young people, mainly without formal qualifications to train, follow apprenticeship schemes and find jobs. The organisation delivers a range of services to paying customers, through projects which offer opportunities to the young people, such as home or public realm improvements. The business has supported thousands of people into jobs, delivering social and economic value in Stoke and beyond. PM Training was acquired in 2008 by the Aspire Group, which has itself evolved from a housing association, and brings together a number of social enterprises in a group structure. The business is thriving, while conscious of future challenges, particularly around ongoing changes to national government policy which may impact on its business model.

The problem

Youth unemployment in the UK is at historically high levels and shows little sign of falling significantly. In November 2011 youth unemployment reached over 1 million young people with many commentators fearing the prospect of "lost generation”. Periods of unemployment among young people are more likely to lead to longer periods of economic inactivity, with a negative consequence for individuals, families, community and the exchequer. 

Stoke-on-Trent has suffered from a range of social, environmental and economic problems, linked in part to the closure of a number of the city’s key industries. In line with the national picture, manufacturing has reduced over several decades. Youth unemployment remains a significant issue with several areas in Staffordshire where youth unemployment lies at a rate above the national average, such as Cannock Chase and Tamworth.  At the end of 2012, 5.3% of people aged 16-18 in Staffordshire were not in employment, education or training (NEET) and 9.2% in Stoke. The 16 to 24 age group suffer disproportionately from unemployment compare to national and regional figures, again particularly in Stoke-on-Trent.


The solution

PM Training was originally established in 1982 as a family business, focused on training and employment preparation for disadvantaged young people in the areas of landscaping, maintenance and gardening. In 2008, the family business was sold to a housing association, Aspire and became a bonafide social enterprise. PM Training now has almost 200 staff and a turnover of almost £6 million. Aspire believe that maximising local labour, training and employment is critically important – hence their support for PM Training. The group includes Aspire Housing, which provides affordable homes to 20,000 residents, Enterprising Futures, which includes PM Training and other social enterprises, and The Realise Foundation, a regeneration charity.

An apprenticeship lets young people train while they work and still get paid. They learn and gain practical skills in the workplace with a local employer, alongside training. Anyone aged 16-18 can undertake an apprenticeship. A young person working with PM Training typically spends six months on a programme training in an OFSTED-approved learning environment. Trainees can progress to earn greater responsibility and develop skills such as literacy and numeracy. When they are ready for an apprenticeship or employment, PM Training can match them with a prospective partner. They may get an initial 4-6 posting and subsequently a 1-2 year apprenticeship, helping them enter the labour market.

PM Training works mainly with young people who have limited formal qualifications. Its core business is to prepare people for work, provide apprenticeship opportunities and training, support businesses with their workforce development and provide direct home improvements and environmental services. PM Training aims to deliver excellent training and employment services but wants to go beyond just being a training provider – with a vision is to “create enterprising futures for all the people, companies and communities we work with”. PM also provide accredited training – accessing funded training - as well as delivering National Vocational Qualifications.

Business model

The business has held contracts with Stoke City council for 16 years. PM Training receives income for the services it provides as well as earning a fee from the government for every trainee that goes into a trainee or apprenticeship. Most pf their income is through trading. PM Training have also received funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Social Regeneration Budget (SRB). Profits are given, with Gift Aid, to Aspire’s charity - the Realise Foundation. 

PM Training provides apprenticeships, traineeships and staff training, creating new work opportunities to 16 - 18 year olds in Staffordshire. The business also delivers study programmes, vocational training and industry work experience. Training centres are based in Stoke-on-Trent, Stafford, Leek and Newcastle-under-Lyme. PM Training seeks to help young people develop skills to progress into their chosen field, including painting and decorating, joinery, carpentry, horticulture, construction, engineering and business administration. The enterprise also works with employers to help them improve their staff retention and productivity employee training and development, such as short courses and in-house training.

One way in which PM training provides these opportunities is through a scheme called Homeworks. Homeworks delivers home, garden and estate-based services to a range of public and private sector organisations across the region. This ranges from small scale improvements and maintenance, to larger projects. The aim is to improves places, provide a good service, while supporting young learners to become ready for work. Homeworks delivers gardening services, lawn mowing, hedge cutting, weeding, tidying, landscaping, furnishing, painting and decorating, caretaking and public realm improvements. 


One Homeworks project involves buying over 40 empty homes and refurbishing them, giving young learners and apprentices the opportunity to develop skills, while opening up new properties to be rented for social housing, bringing empty homes back into productive use.

Another PM Training project is Artworks – an art and street furniture service which produces high quality products in order to improve the public realm. This includes unique and locally produced public art (such as mosaics, murals and sculptures) streetscape works cycle racks, railings, shelters and signage. 


The vast majority of those with whom PM Training work come from the some of the most deprived areas of the country. Over the 2012/13 academic year, only 14% of new starters had both maths and English A-C grade. 

Despite these challenges PM Training is consistently the best performing provider of its kind in Staffordshire. Each year, between 75%-90% who positively progress from our initial vocational training programmes move onto an apprenticeship. PM Training is now the largest provider of young apprenticeship starts in the county and has increased the number of young apprentices by over 200% since 2008.

PM Training has doubled the size of its business over a four year period. Over the last 16 years, PM Training has supported over 11,000 young people into jobs, apprenticeships and NVQ training. In 2012, over 1,000 people from Stoke On Trent, Stafford, Leek and Newcastle Under Lyme joined a PM Training programmes, with over 250 apprenticeships created. Homeworks maintains 1000 gardens every year and decorates 300 properties.

A social return on investment (SROI) study has shown that the Homeworks service generates millions of pounds for young people through increased earnings and future earning potential and estimates that the service delivers a net positive social return on investment for every pound invested. 

In 2011/2012, the Aspire Group as a whole provided 9,000 social rented homes with 89% of Aspire Housing customers satisfied overall. PM Training delivered 1,500 training placements with 77% of learners progressing into an apprenticeship, above the average for training providers, locally and nationally.

Problems and challenges

One particular problem for PM Training is the way that national policy changes impact on their viability and their ability to deliver the impact they seek to make. Recent policy with regard to the apprenticeships policy at the Department for Business and the Department for Education and Skills mean that PM Training find it harder to make a financial success of working with the most disadvantaged young people than other ‘mainstream providers’ who work with a broader cross section of the population. PM Training argue that greater flexibility is needed in developing models that support young people from all backgrounds, including those with dyslexia and mild learning difficulties. Policy reforms may unwittingly have a negative impact on young people who have not necessarily excelled academically.

Other policy changes potentially threaten PM Training’s business model. Recent policy has moved towards a model whereby the employer would pay up front for apprenticeship training. This arguably is more suited to larger employers who have the organisational capacity to deliver apprenticeships themselves and less so for SMEs, particularly those operating in deprived communities, with greater cash flow challenges.  PM Training are concerned that additional financial and administrative barriers for employers and the lack of a level playing field in the market could put smaller training providers out of business.  This in turn would reduce the number of training providers operating and consequently reduce choices for employers, particularly in more remote areas.



PM Training have at times considered the potential for replication of their model through a franchising structure but currently prefer to develop more organically over time. PM’s future is linked to the Aspire Group’s strategy as a whole, which is focused on being a successful “social regeneration business”. Their aim for the next few years is to “see an unequivocal improvement in our homes, neighbourhoods and the quality of life of the people that live there.” While each subsidiary in the group has its own strategy, they all feed into the wider objective of successful communities, maximising people’s potential and supporting the local economy. 

The policy landscape will continue to impact on the future of the business. The system of skills, education and training for 16-24 year olds is still currently in a state of flux in the UK. PM Training are concerned that while the direction of travel is clear, there are substantial policy areas where the big discussions have yet to be systematically worked through, particularly around the relationship between training providers, employers and young people, and how new models work for people in more deprived areas of the country. 


One lesson from the experience of PM Training from a wider UK social enterprise perspective is the power of UK housing associations and their potential contribution to the health of the social economy in the UK. Together they have assets worth billions of pounds and the capacity to make even more of a difference to the lives of some of the most disadvantaged people in the UK, through the work they already do and through more socially enterprising initiatives. They also have the size and scope to foster and house other, more fragile projects and support them to thrive. The Aspire Group, for instance, took over Social Enterprise West Midlands – the regional social enterprise support network – and gave it a more stable and secure ‘home’. 

Another related lessons is the potential of the ‘group’ model to provide a combination of security and flexibility. Projects and enterprises can have the freedom, the branding and nimbleness to pursue their own objectives whilst benefitting from the support and partnerships which the wider group can offer. These models could be developed further across the UK.

Leader’s perspective

Will Nixon, Chief Executive PM Training sees business’s offer as both economic and social, explaining how “We say to councils, businesses and others: `We are your corporate social responsibility agency. By working with a social enterprise you are getting what you want from an apprentice, supporting your clients’ social objectives and meeting your social goals.” 


Text: Dan Gregory, Head of Policy at Social Enterprise UK

Source: “China-UK Social Enterprise and Social Investment Case Studies” publication