INSPIRATIONAL learners, employers and dedicated learning providers were celebrated at this year’s Apprenticeship Awards Cymru.

The awards brought together 34 finalists across a dozen categories, recognising their outstanding achievements in traineeship and apprenticeship programmes.

Jointly organised by the Welsh Government and the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW), this year’s awards had Openreach, the UK’s digital network business, as premier sponsor. The Apprenticeship Programme is funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund.

Winners of the prestigious awards, which were held at the International Convention Centre Wales in Newport, came from across Wales to celebrate their achievements.

Higher Apprentice of the Year winner, 59-year-old Lee Price from Rhayader, overcame a tough year to succeed as a Systems and Operations Management apprentice.

A Senior Quality and Environmental Standards Officer at Powys County Council, Lee was inspired by her late husband, Rob, to sign up to a Higher Apprenticeship with Cambrian Training. Rob passed away just a month after Lee’s course began but she went on to complete the qualification nine months ahead of schedule.

After hitting rock bottom following his father’s death and a battle with addiction, Gavin Williams, 20, from Llandegfan, transformed his life thanks to an apprenticeship. Supported by Busnes@LlandrilloMenai, Gavin successfully completed a Foundation Apprenticeship in barbering.

Now self-employed, Gavin works from Rubens Male Grooming salon in Llanfair PG and is progressing to an Apprenticeship. He was awarded Foundation Apprentice of the Year.

The Apprentice of the Year Award went to engineer Shane Ash, 26, from Risca, who is using his training and skills to save his employer time and money.

The 26-year-old identified changes which saved employer Tata Steel more than £22,000, whilst managing a major project. He is now in the design phase of installing a robotic arm which will remove impurities from molten zinc, improving the speed and health and safety of the galvanising line.

Having completed a series of qualifications through Bridgend College, Coleg Gwent and the University of South Wales, Shane is now working towards a Higher Apprenticeship (Level 4) and a BSc in Mechanical Engineering.

A new award this year, Tomorrow’s Talent, was won by 22-year-old history graduate Esta Lewis. Supported by Cardiff and Vale College, Esta is Rhondda Cynon Taff’s first Heritage Outreach Apprentice and is passionate about making history accessible to all.

Inspired by her late grandfather, who was a miner, she runs and develops workshops for the Welsh Mining Experience at Rhondda Heritage Park. Her work with school visits helped her employer win the Sandford Award, a sector quality assurance for heritage education programmes, for the first time.

In the employers’ section, Gwesty’r Harbourmaster Hotel, Aberaeron collected the Small Employer of the Year Award for its strong commitment to apprenticeships, maintaining a workforce of 40 highly trained and motivated staff.

Cambrian Training delivers apprenticeships to 11 apprentices at the hotel, which is overcoming a shortage of workers in the hospitality sector by growing its own skilled staff to deliver quality customer care and visitor experience.

Other award winners were: Large Employer of the Year, Aspire Blaenau Gwent. Macro Employer of the Year, Swansea Bay University Health Board. Medium Employer of the Year, ITV Cymru Wales. Work-based Learning Tutor of the Year, Lynn Mathews, from Gorseinon who works for PeoplePlus Cymru. Work-based Learning Assessor of the Year, Hayley Lewis from Haverfordwest, who works for TSW Training, Bridgend. Traineeship Learner of the Year (Engagement), Carrie-Ann Anthony from Aberdare. Traineeship Learner of the Year (Level 1), Marcio Paixo from Merthyr Tydfil.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “All the winners have set the standard for apprenticeships and traineeships throughout Wales. They are a fantastic showcase for our apprenticeship programme and I have been very impressed by the dedication shown by every one of tonight’s nominees, many of whom have overcome personal adversity.

“The commitment by the employers must also be commended – all have shown how enthusiastic they are about apprenticeships and how important they are to developing a skilled workforce.

“Thanks to everyone here tonight and all the passionate, hard-working apprentices across Wales, the number of people gaining the skills and experiences which businesses across all sectors of our economy really need is increasing every day.

“We promised we would create 100,000 all-age apprenticeships this Assembly term and thanks to a remarkable effort from employers, learning providers and advice services, we are well on our way to reaching, and exceeding, this target. We will continue to work together to equip Wales with the talent to have a genuinely world class workforce.”

Sarah John, NTfW chair, said the finalists were all “fantastic ambassadors” for the Welsh Government’s successful Apprenticeship and Traineeship Programmes.

“Looking to the future, we shall need to equip employers and employees with the evolving skills needed to face the challenges of automation, artificial intelligence and digitalisation,” she added. “Working closely with the Welsh Government and employers, I am confident that the NTfW will develop and deliver the quality solutions required.”

Connie Dixon, Partnership Director for Openreach in Wales, said: “At Openreach we place a great value on recruiting new apprentices every year and are very proud of the fact that we hire more apprentices than any other private sector business in the UK.

“They make a huge contribution to our business - as they do to many other companies up and down the country – and it’s only right that this is recognised.

“We’re delighted to have been involved with this year’s awards and would like to congratulate all the winners and finalists.”

Compere for the awards ceremony was TV presenter Mai Davies and chefs from the Senior Culinary Team Wales and the Culinary ICC Wales Brigade cooked the dinner for 500 guests.

Picture captions:

Gavin Williams’ inspirational story and learning journey was rewarded with the Foundation Apprentice of the Year Award.

Apprentice of the Year Award Shane Ash is using his training to save his employer, Tata Steel, time and money.

Lee Price was named Higher Apprentice of the Year after being inspired by her late husband to complete the qualification nine months ahead of schedule.

Large Employer of the Year Award went to Aspire Blaenau Gwent whose Skills Development Manager Tara Lane is seen with Andrew Bevan, Apprenticeships Co-ordinator and apprentices.

Medium Employer of the Year Award winner was ITV Cymru Wales whose Head of News and Programmes Phil Henfrey is pictured with Lead Production Specialist Fiona Francis and apprentices Zahra Errami, Mollie Latham, Safyan Iqbal and Eugenia Taylor.