Premiership Rugby Celebrates Cohort of Apprentices for National Apprenticeship Week 2023

As part of National Apprenticeship Week 2023, 6th-12th February, Premiership Rugby is shining a spotlight on individuals from its award winning HITZ education and employability programme to demonstrate how rugby is helping create a new generation of apprentices.

Helping young people to secure apprenticeships is a key objective of Premiership Rugby through the HITZ programme which has been running since 2008. It is on this programme that young people can find the steppingstones to employment, by gaining qualifications and learning new skills which make them more work ready.


Rob Baxter, Director of Rugby at Exeter Chiefs is a huge advocate of apprenticeships and says, ‘The HITZ environment brings these young people out of themselves to enable them to learn new skills. What they then need is a chance from local businesses to show them what they are capable of. People like Andy Bassett, who are used to employing people and working in big teams in a real-life environment, play a valuable part in these young people’s future. He helps provide a different pathway for young people to learn new skills and become successful.’

Delivered through our network of premiership clubs, foundations, and community volunteers, we work with young people who are often the hardest to reach, those not in education, employment or training for a variety of reasons. Often against all odds, the programme helps young people to overcome personal battles physically and mentally, to reengage in education and enable them to work out their next steps which for many includes going on to secure apprenticeships. Young people like…


Dawda Darboe, Bristol Bears Community Foundation

With a full-time role as an IT apprentice at Molson Group, a construction equipment supplier based in Bristol, Dawda is motivated and inspired to carve out a career. Talking of the skills that helped secure an apprenticeship he explains, ‘The HITZ programme and meeting other people like me really helped. I’ve learned how to build my CV and where to go looking for jobs, improve my interview skills and I plan for career progression once I complete my apprenticeship at Molson.’

Nick George, HITZ Officer at Bristol Bears, summarises Dawda’s journey, ‘He suffered real adversity but through sport and physical activity he has managed to improve his mental health, to the point of being an independent young adult who is working full time and competing at 1XV level for a well-established local rugby team. Dawda is probably the most impressive young man I have ever met.’

Robin Powell, Director of the Molson Group, explains the impact apprentices like Dawda have on a business ‘Not only does it impact the individual themselves, but also the workforce around them. Helping apprentices learn, develop and get on track is a rewarding experience and the team at Molson benefit alongside Dawda. If people are more motivated to support others, it makes them feel good, morale increases and the business reaps the rewards alongside the individuals. We are looking forward to supporting more HITZ students like Dawda in taking the first step into employment. Many people at Molson express their excitement and pleasure at helping young people understand that no matter what walk of life you come from you have something to offer.’


Michael Pentland, Newcastle Falcons Rugby Foundation

Michael’s loss of two close male family role models had such a detrimental effect that at his lowest he felt suicidal. Michael credits HITZ with giving him the confidence to keep going. Talking to his tutors and peers on the programme about his experiences and mental health challenges helped Michael find focus and direction. This coupled with his high standards of work and polite nature earnt him an apprenticeship at the foundation.

Talking of what the apprenticeship has done for him Michael says “My apprenticeship with the Falcons Community had such a positive impact on me and my personal growth helping me to socialise with people again. After a few years of no real interaction with people, it was hard to settle in. However, all the staff made me feel welcome and I was soon able to speak to colleagues on a one-to-one level. It has taught me to coach myself into living a healthier lifestyle, both mentally and physically alongside giving me hands-on experience to develop skills to become a fully qualified Level 2 RFU coach. My ambition is to be offered a full-time job at the end of the apprenticeship as it has helped confirm I want to take coaching further, as a full-time coach or by teaching sport in school.”

Melanie Magee, Head of Newcastle Rugby Foundation, says of Michael ‘Since joining as an apprentice coach Michael has inspired so many of us at the club. He has shown a huge amount of hard work and dedication with his apprenticeship role, and it has been great to watch his progression working alongside Newcastle Rugby Foundation Development Officers. Michael began co-delivering on our primary school programmes, early year programmes and assisting our Social Inclusion Manager with the new intake on our HITZ programme. Michael is now a fully qualified Level 2 RFU coach, delivering sessions in schools and on half-term holiday coaching camps, helping pass on his enthusiasm for life and sport to the younger generations.’


Tyrell Wilson, Northampton Saints Foundation

Shortlisted for Apprentice of the Year last year at the Northamptonshire Business Excellence Awards, HITZ student Tyrell has overcome huge personal challenges on his apprentice journey. After struggling with mainstream education Tyrell found Northampton Saints Foundation and undertook several courses to gain qualifications. His work ethic improved, and he steered his life down a more positive pathway. Hard work, commitment and a new motivation led to him becoming a role model for new students joining the HITZ programme. A successful application for an apprenticeship with Northampton Saints Foundation enabled Tyrell to support other disadvantaged or vulnerable young people who are in a similar situation to where Tyrell was at the beginning. He continues to shine in this role, using his lived experience to understand and motivate young people to make good decisions and create a positive future. Tyrell continues his positive pathway having completed his apprenticeship with a distinction and has now been promoted to the role of Student Mentor.

Tyrell says the best things about his apprenticeship are ‘Being able to help support the individuals on the programme as well as developing my skillset through my course which help me succeed and to progress onto the student mentor role. Watching the young people I work with grow into more positive and confident individuals and working on a range of different programmes to give me the chance to understand different student behaviours and experiences.’


Callum Pope, Exeter Chiefs

Having previously battled with severe social anxiety before joining the HITZ programme in 2019, Pope’s stellar work throughout led to an apprenticeship with SCL Education Group and subsequent employment as a teacher at HITZ.

Callum has been assigned students to support and mentor throughout lockdowns over the last few years. Regularly checking in with them, Callum used his own personal experiences with isolation and depression to help support them to deal with the challenges brought about by Covid-19. Despite all his struggles, Pope found the strength within him to better both his life and those around him, he says of his journey ‘HITZ was a second chance to create a life for myself. With support around me I was able to say it’s my life and it’s my responsibility to make this better for myself. Completing an apprenticeship was such an enjoyable experience for me. It gave me accountability and a safe haven into the workplace.’

Businesses working with our clubs are committed to providing opportunities for young people after the HITZ programme.


Marcel Binley, Managing Director of The Roastery, offers HITZ students’ at Northampton Saints Foundation opportunities to gain Barista qualifications as a steppingstone into employment. Commenting on why he gets involved and how it has helped his business Marcel says, ‘Just having the opportunity to work with these students give us so much joy. Watching them grow and learn about coffee has been a huge privilege. We will keep on doing everything we can.’


Andy Bassett is a retired business owner who three years ago chose to dedicate his time to HITZ and helping to develop apprenticeships with Exeter Chiefs. He works with the programme carving out career pathways for students. By helping young people to identify job prospects and preparing them to be work ready he instils confidence. Andy then taps into his resources from running three successful businesses to help them find roles that play to individual strengths, setting young people up for success. Andy is a firm believer in apprenticeships having seen the benefits first hand that they provide for businesses.

Commenting on what he gets back from working with HITZ Andy says ‘My involvement in HITZ has made me more mindful, compassionate and less judgemental. I want to continue to make a genuine difference to the lives of young people and apprenticeship programmes is one way I can do this.’

Working with more than 2,000 14–24-year-olds across England every year, the HITZ programme is supported by CVC, Wooden Spoon and East Head Impact, with Central YMCA as the programme’s official education provider, we support young people to make positive changes in their lives.

Success comes from learning in an inclusive environment amongst the HITZ family that is different to mainstream education. Rugby’s core values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline, and sportsmanship are at the heart of every session delivered. Through self-discipline, commitment and courage beyond measure young people are gaining qualifications and life changing skills to become an apprentice with a clear career pathway ahead of them.


Find out more on the HITZ programme and details of how to enrol at


There are lots of ways you can help Wooden Spoon support more projects like HITZ. You can donate, join our membership scheme or fundraise.