Leeds-based Enact backs firm which trains new generation of bus drivers

A Yorkshire-based company which is helping to train a new generation of bus drivers during the pandemic is set to record significant growth after gaining support from a major investor.

Library image of a Stagecoach bus in Scotland

The transaction marks the latest deal for Leeds-based Enact, which invests transformational capital of up to £5 million into UK-based SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises).

The business previously known as Interserve Learning & Employment is set for expansion after changing its name to Realise.

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Realise was founded in Sheffield as STL in 1990, before merging with the training providers Sencia, Orient and Triangle to become The Employability Skills Group (ESG).

In 2014, ESG was acquired by Interserve and began trading as Interserve Learning & Employment. It has now become a standalone training provider, through a management buyout backed by Enact.

The business, which still operates from its base in Sheffield, has worked with some of the region’s biggest employers such as Stagecoach, providing apprenticeships and adult training programmes.

During the pandemic Realise has worked closely with Stagecoach to ensure apprentices’ training continues.

Will Scott, 30, from Chesterfield was the first apprentice to pass Stagecoach’s year-long, level 2 apprentice programme, after the pandemic led to a pause in apprentice qualifications.

A spokesman said: “Due to Covid, Will had to finish his apprenticeship by telephone, completing questions and scenarios with regards to his job in order to pass.

“Will previously worked in a factory in production and driving before changing careers into the bus industry. He is now working in Chesterfield as a bus driver and looking to progress through the company.”

Mr Scott said: “I was ready for a career change from my previous work and have really enjoyed completing the Stagecoach apprenticeship programme. I’m now looking forward to a long and happy career with Stagecoach.”

Gregg Scott, the managing director of Realise, said: “Communicating, building trust and inspiring talent are what we do, and it is important that we have a strong brand identity which reflects that.

“As Realise, we are better reflecting who and what we are, as well as creating a distinctive brand in the apprenticeship, adult learning and vocational training markets.”

“We are very excited about our new brand identity and look forward to a bright future where we will continue to support Yorkshire businesses to grow and flourish through effective training programmes.

Mr Scott added: “We wanted to have a bold new brand to get the message out there about our business. A lot of employers have outdated views of apprentices but today they cover a broad spectrum.

"We’ve got 300 staff today and today we are turning over £15m. We hope to be turning over £30m in five years’ time. Online learning will increase but you will still need to provide pastoral support to learners.”

Businesswoman Sarah Jones, who is Realise’s new chairman, said: “When I met the team at Realise, I saw that it was a hidden gem. They just needed that freedom to expand in the market.

“It’s really good to see it being supported by a Yorkshire-based investor.”

The investment by Enact is the fifth acquisition made from the £30m dedicated SME fund raised in May 2019.

Chris Cormack, a partner at Enact, said: “Realise is right in the sweet spot for Enact. It has a USP (unique selling point) which is needed in the wider economy.

“The management team know the business inside out and they needed financial and operational support and the head space to think about growing the business.”

Mr Cormack said Enact was considering further potential investments. Enact was advised by Simon Pilling and James Cook of Womble Bond Dickinson and Russ Cahill of the Tax Advisory Partnership.

All new Stagecoach bus drivers enrol on the apprenticeship scheme run in partnership with Realise, according to Sue Hayes,Stagecoach’s Yorkshire Operations Director.

She added: “The apprentice attends Stagecoach’s thorough driver training programme in order to obtain a driving licence. Then for the following 12 months they will regularly attend training courses designed in partnership and presented by Realise.”

Stagecoach’s commitment to innovation was reflected in its decision to put a self-driving bus through its paces in Glasgow last year.