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Grounds maintenance former apprentice wins National Apprenticeship Award

Neil Cain, from Kimpton, Hertfordshire, was last night named the City & Guilds Apprentice Champion of the Year at the National Apprenticeship Awards at an exclusive ceremony at London’s Grosvenor House.

Neil, age 52, currently operations director with John O’Conner (Grounds Maintenance) Ltd, fought off competition from hundreds of other apprentices around England to be awarded the top prize.

The Awards, now in their twelfth year, are run by the National Apprenticeship Service and recognise excellence in two areas: businesses that grow their own talent with apprentices and apprentices who have made a significant contribution to their workplaces.

Neil was chosen as the winner in recognition of the outstanding contribution he has made to apprenticeships since starting one in 1980.

Skills minister Nick Boles said:“Congratulations to Neil for his success at the National Apprenticeship Awards. Apprenticeships truly are set to be one of the great success stories of the decade, and Neil is a worthy ambassador.

“We are committed to 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 so that even more businesses and young people alike can follow Neil’s lead and reap the benefits of apprenticeships.”

Employment minister Priti Patel said:“I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to Neil of for his fantastic achievement in being named the City & Guilds Apprentice Champion of the Year.

“Apprenticeships offer a fantastic way for many young people of all backgrounds to earn as they learn while providing employers with the transferable skills needed to take their business from strength to strength. We currently have record-breaking levels of employment – and this is boosted by prospects like apprenticeships. I want to see this continue.

“By working closely with businesses and taking steps like rolling out our ‘Jobcentre Plus Support for Schools’ programme to teach pupils about work experience, apprenticeships and traineeships, we are helping to create an even more flexible and resilient labour market for the future.”

In the late 1990`s the maintenance of The Royal Parks was outsourced which included the apprentices employed at the time. It was Neil, then working for one of the new contractors and his experience of being an apprentice, who played an important role in supporting the apprentices who had moved across to the company.

It was not long before Neil was taking on wider responsibilities in his new role within the Fountains Group who had recently taken on the Royal Parks` estate at Bushy Park. It was here that his commitment to training and staff development came to the fore with his implementation of a site based training programme for staff and ongoing support of the park`s apprentices.

Latterly, as operations director at John O`Conner, Neil has been working in support of The Royal Parks Guild, of which he is a member, to further one of its aims which is to champion the role of apprenticeships generally and support individuals through initiatives such as mentoring and master classes.

On accepting the award, Neil said: “My apprenticeship with Sunderland Parks Department has been the foundation for over 30 successful years in the horticulture industry, providing personal and professional fulfilment. My progression from apprentice to operations director is a testament to the potential of apprenticeships and my biggest achievement. It’s evidence a university route is not the only option to exceptional careers, hence why I champion apprenticeships in addition to my job role within JOC and externally.

“I am delighted to dedicate my personal time as a pro-active ambassador. I`ve passionately encouraged JOC to embrace apprenticeships into the culture, value and business strategy since joining. I believe my story of progressing from an apprentice to operations director enables me to offer strong experience/advice to apprentices. I always have an open door for anyone, not just new young apprentices but existing staff. Apprenticeships are for everyone.”

Nadhim Zahawi, the Prime Minister’s apprenticeship adviser, who presented the awards, said: “The Prime Minister is committed to 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020 and I am excited to have a role in helping to deliver this goal, while pushing to revolutionise the skills of our workforce in Britain. Good quality apprenticeships create a fairer society by giving hard working young people the chance to aim for their dream job whilst playing their part in building a stronger economy for Britain.

“There are many examples of excellent apprenticeships and apprentices in England and these winners are the best of the best. I congratulate Neil on his success. It’s an honour to have been part of these awards; to play a small part in recognising the effort of so many great businesses and to reward apprentices for their hard work and dedication. All this year’s winners should shout from the rooftops about what taking an apprenticeship has done for them or what hiring an apprentice has done for their business. I am determined that apprenticeships should be given the recognition they deserve, because they absolutely do deserve it.”

Kirstie Donnelly MBE, managing director – City & Guilds, said:“We are delighted to be sponsoring the Apprentice Champion of the Year award which recognises the sheer hard-work and dedication of apprentices who are excelling in their chosen profession. I hope that the achievements of these inspirational people encourage many others to consider an apprenticeship as the route to a rewarding new career.”

To view the full list of award winners and finalists or for more information about apprenticeships, search on GOV.UK

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