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Fast Forward Vocational Training Ltd’s Race To Upskill Youth In STEM

Callum Thompson

Founder Callum Thompson is offering alternative STEM-related education to disadvantaged young people across the UK, through the medium of go-karting.

The outlook is rosy for the UK’s science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sectors – or so it seems. A 2022 report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that those employed in STEM jobs numbered some 8.5 percent of the total workforce. Another 2022 study by job market information firm, Careersmart revealed a 2.79 percent estimated increase in STEM occupations employment between 2023 and 2024. All good news in theory, but widespread upskilling is crucial to avoid a STEM skills shortage. Hull-based Fast Forward Vocational Training Ltd is helping to bridge the impending skills gap while adding a splash of social uplift to the mix. Founder Callum Thompson sheds light on its founding story.

It all started in 2013 when the twenty-two-year-old Thompson opened an indoor karting track in Hull. Initial interest came from an unlikely place, the neighbourhood police. “They asked if they could bring in some youths from one of the estates who were committing low-level antisocial behaviour crimes in the hope they could build relationships between the local officers and the young people through racing,” he explains. Beyond a thrilling spin around the track, the new visitors became curious about how the go-karts worked, “they were keen to learn about the engines and we were happy to teach them.”

Soon after, one young person informed their school who then approached Thompson about using the service to help troubled students. Thanks to the power of referrals, the school became their first paying client, and Fast Forward Vocational Training was born. “We took six students on an unaccredited course in 2014 and have since grown that number to over 600 learners, with the next academic year set to take us to over 900 learners which will make us the farthest-reaching Alternative Training Provision in the UK,” he beams.

Securing the first client is always a big moment for a business, but scaling up successfully is what establishes a firm as a force to be reckoned with. For Thompson and his team, this came in 2017 via a partnership with TeamSport Indoor Karting, which is the UK’s biggest indoor karting company with thirty-seven tracks across the country. “We now offer our training provision in all of these tracks,” he says. “What makes us unique is the blend of theoretical and practical learning we offer from the most exciting and well-equipped facilities possible.”

While the scale-up stage was challenging, Thompson explains it was “necessary” as the market in Hull, while good, wasn’t enough to ensure a sustainable business and to “truly make a lifelong difference to the number of students we wanted it to.” The five-year plan is appropriately ambitious, namely to become “the market leader for alternative training in the UK,” and to give “thousands of young people” a means “to achieve success and help to create a better skilled and well-equipped next generation for this country.”

Clearly, helping disadvantaged youths gain the knowledge and skills to enter the lucrative and fast growing STEM market is what makes Fast Forward Vocational Training a social as well as financially viable enterprise, however funding cuts are creating some humps on the horizon for Thompson and his team. “Schools and academies that desperately need our support have had budgets cut and funding placements on our programmes is increasingly difficult.”

For those who aren’t in the loop about access to alternative forms of education among school-age children, Thompson points to figures published by the Department for Education last year, which showed that more than 50,000 secondary school students were “accessing the majority of their education in alternative provision,” which provides education for children who can’t access mainstream schools, often due to exclusion. Thompson claims “this number is showing signs of further growth,” yet UK schools aren’t receiving “extra funding to manage this.”

Despite the obvious market challenges, Thompson has an exciting year ahead with nearly one thousand students due to enrol in the 2024-2025 academic year, with a range of STEM-related studies on offer from “Motor Vehicle Studies” and “Introduction to Motor Sport Engineering” to “Progression into a STEM Career.”

When it comes to how he builds his internal workforce, Thompson’s leadership style follows the founding ethos of his company by focusing “on putting together a team with agency over academic achievements.” For this leader, while “a nice CV is great,” it’s really about finding “people who just get things done” and “especially through periods of growth.”

At this final juncture, it seems appropriate to ask Thompson how he defines success at Fast Forward Vocational Training, and the answer is simple, yet powerful. “We measure success by the number of students who leave our programme in a better position than when they joined.”

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