Express & Star

Success of Black Country apprenticeships recognised at awards

Walsall FC's Bescot Stadium was the scene for a night of celebrations for the success of apprenticeships in the Black Country.

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Overall winner Sara Fields with her awards

The second annual Ladder for the Black Country Apprenticeship Awards saw winners announced in 11 categories.

The winners on stage at Bescot Stadium

The overall apprentice of the year winner Sara Fields has worked for Willenhall-based AF Blakemore for two-and-a-half years.

Sara, aged 35, who lives in Grimsby and works between there and Willenhall in distribution as a manger for the Subway chain.

She said she was "shocked" to have won and couldn't wait to show her awards to her workmates.

She also took home the hospitality, retail, leisure and travel apprentice of the year trophy.

Sara Fields with Walsall Council chief executive Emma Bennett chief executive and Councillor Mark Statham

"It was worth all the hard work. I would recommend an apprenticeship to anyone. I have just got two staff starting one and look forward to helping them," said Sara who impressed management with her dedication to overcoming obstacles including challenging personal issues.

The headline sponsor for the awards, organised by the Express & Star, was Walsall Council and its deputy leader Councillor Adrian Andrew said the council was proud to sponsor the apprenticeship awards and said the finalists represented the future of the Black Country.

"Their success is vital for the growth and prosperity of all of our communities," he stressed.

Councillor Andrew said creating apprenticeships was also a key part of the We Are Walsall 2040 plan which partly involved investing in creating a skilled workforce and shaping a brighter and more prosperous future.

Training provider of the year was Aldridge's In-Comm Training. Chief operating officer Becky Phillips from the family-run business received the award and said: "We didn't expect this at all. It is great to be recognised for what we do.

"We are continuing to grow with a 36 per cent increase in engineering and manufacturing apprentice intake this year."

In-Comm Training gets the training provider award

Tech, digital and creative industries apprentice of the year winner was 23-year-old Tadiwa Chikowore, of Ginger6 Computers at Four Ashes, near Wolverhampton.

The digital marketing apprentice said: "Doing an apprenticeship has been the best thing that ever happened to me. I dropped out of university and starting an apprenticeship is the best decision in my life. It has given me a career path and something I really want to do."

Tadiwa Chikowore from Ginger 6 gets his award

The large employer of the year was Wolverhampton-based pubs group Marston's.

Apprentice manager Paul Fellows, who was an apprentice himself, said: "It is fantastic to win.We employ apprentices across the country of all ages and at all levels in the business. It is so great for Marston's to be recognised for the quality of our programme."

Marston's receive the award on stage at Walsall FC

Doocey Group in Tipton won medium employer. Head of HR Kirsty Stuart was thrilled to have won and said: "It is only our second year of doing apprenticeships. We took on 19 last year and 15 this. There were over 100 applications last year and 200 this and 400 have registered for our next open day. It is amazing how many young people are out there wanting an opportunity.

"Our apprentices are making such a difference to the business."

Helen Nuttall, of Penny Post Credit Union, Wolverhampton, which won small employer, said: "Our apprentices are top notch."

Construction and properties industries apprentice of the year winner Ravel Wallace, 23, of Willenhall, works for Wolverhampton Homes. He said he was "over the moon" to have won. "I feel like all my hard work has paid off," he added.

Lu Loughlin, 19, of Shrewsbury, who works for Collins Aerospace, Wolverhampton, won engineering and manufacturing apprentice of the year. He is in the third year of his apprenticeship and said it was "fantastic" to be recognised with the award.

"It was a brilliant choice to go for an apprenticeship. I'm very thankful to my mentor at Collins, Ben Pope, who nominated me," he added.

Health, education and care apprentice of the year winner Scott Shenton, aged 49, of Halesowen said: "I would recommend an apprenticeship to anyone."

The decontamination manager at Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, who is married with a son, said his team leader apprenticeship had given him the finishing touches he needed for his work.

Scott Shenton, of Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, is presented with his award

Sairah Ali, 24, of Walsall, was the professional services apprentice of the year.

The personnel assistant will have worked for Walsall Council for two years in February and said: "I can't believe I have won. An apprenticeship is the best thing I have ever done. It has given me the skills to develop a career."

Chairman of the Ladder Foundation Kevin Davis addresses guests

Walsall-born Kevin Davis, chairman of the Ladder Foundation, told guests at the dinner: "It is great to be in my home town to celebrate apprenticeships success.

"We have been going for 10 years now and the Express & Star has been partnered with us for eight. We have now reached the milestone of 10,000 apprenticeships."

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said by video message to apprentices attending: "The future success of the region is in your hands."

Awards host Aaron James on stage
Rob Colbourne, left, Kevin Davis, Justine Johnson and Jagdeep Soor
In-Comm Training's Jayne Guest, Paul Hodgetts and Bekki Phillips
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