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The Importance of developing your own talent

With the World Cup well on its way, it got me thinking about the parallels between elite sport and the world of work, and therefore, the importance of nurturing talent with a long-term view. It’s no secret that developing your own talent is cheaper and, though a bit more difficult to quantify, also more effective in terms of output as well as culture. Added to the fact that we’re experiencing a skills shortage, most definitely here in the UK but also across the globe, and the argument for nurturing and developing talent in-house is very compelling.

With the above in mind, I thought I’d look at three of this tournament’s biggest success stories, in terms of centralised and specialised FA-led football academies, and how three of the competing football associations (FA) have deployed such institutions and the results that are now bearing fruit.

England – St. George’s Park:

St George’s Park (SGP) is the English Football Association’s national football centre built on a 330-acre site at Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire. The centre was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2012.

The centre is now the base for all coaching and development work undertaken by the FA, and the training and preparation ground for all England national football teams – across all age categories.

Prior to 2012, all English national teams were based out of the Lilleshall National Sports Centre in Telford, Shropshire – my hometown – and so whilst England have definitely profited from the establishment of SGP, it has come as a personal loss to me as I remember going to Lilleshall to watch the England team prepare for tournaments such as Euro ’96 and France ’98. That said, and most definitely putting my selfishness to one side, the National Sports Centre is an establishment for all elite sport across England and though the facilities are world-class, it isn’t dedicated to football.

And, to be fair, the specialisation and dedication at SGP has already produced significant results, in particular across England’s youth categories – namely the 2017 u-20 World Cup win – with graduates of that team like Phil Foden now being established full internationals and helping the England Men’s National Team reach the final of last year’s Euros.

France – Clairefontaine:

The INF Clairefontaine (“Institut national du football de Clairefontaine”), or simply Clairefontaine, is the French national football centre that specialises in training French football prospects. The academy is the centre of French football development and is one of thirteen country-wide elite academies that are supervised by the French Football Federation (FFF). Only the best players from the Île-de-France region train at the Clairefontaine academy. The twelve other academies are situated in Castelmaurou, Châteauroux, Liévin, Dijon, Marseille, Ploufragan, Vichy and Reims, Réunion, Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loire, Guadeloupe and Talence.

Established in 1988, the centre was the first of its kind in world football and has been the model that all other such national football association centres of excellence have followed, and for good reason. It took only ten years since its inception for Clairefontaine to help the FFF reach its goal of winning a first World Cup in 1998. For the superstitious out there, it could be a good portent for England given that SGP was opened exactly one decade ago…

Serbia – Stara Pazova:

The Sports Centre of the Football Association of Serbia (SCFSS), colloquially known as Stara Pazova, officially opened in 2011, as a joint investment between UEFA and the FSS (Serbian FA). One of the earliest adopters of the national football development model after countries like France and Germany, the SCFSS is now recognised as one of the best football development centres in Europe.

Much like with France and England, the FSS has already seen excellent results from its investment in the centre. Most notably in 2013 and 2015 respectively when the Serbian u-19 and u-20 teams won the European Championship and World Cup respectively, with many of the 2013 generation progressing into the 2015 generation, and subsequently forming the core of Serbia’s World Cup 2022 squad this year (no less than ten u-20 World Cup winners are in the Serbia World Cup squad in Qatar). I might be a little bit biased but my dark horse tip for this World Cup is Serbia. I don’t think we’ll win it, but I think we’ll have a long run in the tournament…

The benefits of a graduate/apprentice programme

So now that we’ve established the importance of nurturing your own talent, and we’ve provided some examples of elite talent development – as well as the results that can be produced – what are the other associated benefits and why should you look at establishing a graduate programme?

  • Graduate programmes are an affordable hiring option
  • Fresh perspectives and innovation
  • Competitive backgrounds
  • Company values and culture.

Examples of our work with graduate/apprentice programmes

We supported one of our clients with their apprenticeship programme. Our client, the largest collector of data in the UK, required help with establishing an apprenticeship programme for software developer talent. They engaged Your Talent Solutions (YTS) for support with establishing their programme including assistance with engaging specialist Software training providers and the UK Government’s National Apprenticeship Service as well as support in marketing and attraction for the candidates. YTS helped our client structure and centralise a new apprentice recruitment programme from scratch as well as aligning with existing software development bootcamp programmes dedicated to finding and developing new software development talent from within the UK market. The bootcamps align with the government apprenticeship programme so levy paying employers contribute for the course from their existing pot or non-levy payers must only pay 5%. At the time there was a government incentive of £3,000 for every candidate hired which meant our client was £2,100 up after all costs.

The bootcamps were a combination of an initial intense bootcamp, on-the-job learning as well as actually working full-time.

As a result of our work with the bootcamp provider and the end client, we were able to support them with fulfilling their requirement of their apprentice software developer cohort within 3-months.

If you feel that you’d like to develop your own talent or any of the above has piqued your interest, but you feel like you wouldn’t know where to begin, don’t fret. A graduate programme does take some setting up and a good bit of upfront investment is required; it’s a long-term view. But ultimately the benefits to be gained are not only in terms of hard pounds cost-savings, but also greater macro benefits such as building a company-wide culture of success and embedding your company’s values throughout your future workforce. These in turn lead to greater retention of talent, which again means less hard pounds being spent on recruitment but also keeping and further developing expertise.

If these are things that you’re interested in or would like to explore, please feel free to visit our website’s Early Careers section – – for more information and get in touch with me at

Now let’s enjoy the rest of the World Cup, see if my predictions are correct and whether it will finally come home!

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