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Bridges exits apprenticeship provider Babington Group following strong growth

Bridges Ventures (Bridges) has sold Babington Group (Babington), a UK-based provider of apprenticeships and training courses, to RJD Partners for GBP22 million.

Bridges, a specialist sustainable and impact investor, originally invested in Babington Group in 2009 via the Bridges Sustainable Growth Fund II. Under its ownership, Babington’s revenues have increased from under GBP2m to more than GBP15m, thanks to strong organic growth and two strategic acquisitions. Today’s sale price represents an internal rate of return for Bridges of 33 per cent.
Bridges invested in Babington in line with its focus on backing companies that have a clear growth opportunity by tackling major societal challenges or responding to long-term macro trends. 

A skills shortage continues to hamper the UK’s economic recovery, with one in five job vacancies remaining unfilled; while employment among 16-24 year-olds continues to lag behind pre-crisis levels, with almost a million classified as NEET (not in education, employment or training). Bridges believed that Babington’s high-quality apprenticeships and traineeships could help to address this skills gap, by allowing businesses to harness fresh talent and enabling staff to develop specialist skills through on-the-job training.

The Bridges team, which has extensive experience of buy-and-build strategies, worked closely with management throughout the investment period – initially to strengthen the senior team, and subsequently to identify, execute and integrate two bolt-on acquisitions. Bridges also initiated the development of Babington’s e-commerce strategy, which led to the creation of its innovative online learning platform.
The company has also continued to diversify its product offering, by expanding its Traineeship provision and increasing the breadth and depth of courses available: it now offers qualifications ranging from Intermediate Apprenticeship (Level 2) all the way up to Doctorate Level (Level 8). Notably, it has become a market leader in Accountancy and Financial Services, where it is rated as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted and enjoys success rates 10% above the national average. It has been the UK’s largest provider of Chartered Insurance Institute qualifications for the last three years.
Under Bridges’ ownership, Babington has supported over 32,000 learners, and helped over 3,700 formerly unemployed people to find jobs. Last year alone, it trained 1,600 16-18 year-olds at risk of becoming NEET, with about two-thirds of its students coming from underserved areas of the UK. Throughout its strong growth, student satisfaction levels have remained consistently high, with 93% citing overall satisfaction (against a national benchmark of 85%), and employer satisfaction at 92% (against a national benchmark of 74%). It now works with over 2,100 employers to source and support talent.
Garret Turley, partner at Bridges Ventures, says: “We have always believed that apprenticeships can play an important role in tackling the UK skills gap – and we identified Babington as a high-quality provider that could help to meet this growing need. We’re very proud that our investment has enabled the company to achieve a step change in its growth since 2009, allowing it to help thousands more students gain additional qualifications. With its outstanding management team, strong product offering, and exceptional satisfaction rates, we fully expect Babington to enjoy continued growth under its new owners.”

Carole Carson, CEO of Babington Group, says: “Bridges has been a consistently supportive partner for Babington since 2009, helping us to strengthen the team, build out the online platform and promote our brand – ultimately enabling us to work with more employers and reach many more learners. Apprenticeships are a vital tool in helping to address skills shortages in the workplace, and we continue to see strong support for them both at policy level and within the business world. This leaves Babington ideally positioned to explore additional growth opportunities in the coming years.

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