Awards Give Chance for Tributes to Apprentices; Now in Their Eighth Year, the National Apprenticeship Awards Recognise the Achievements of Individuals Engaged in Training and the Organisations That Invest in Them. as Part of the Journal's 500 in 100 Campaign, CHRISTOPHER KNOX Takes a Look at This Year's Awards and Catches Up with Some of Last Year's North East Winners

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Byline: CHRISTOPHER KNOX

THE closing date for applications for this year's National Apprenticeship Awards is fast approaching and organisers are urging employers who have supported the apprenticeship programme to nominate themselves or one of their trainees for the individual awards.

In a change to proceedings, this year will see the North East winners included in a 100-strong list of England's top 100 apprenticeship employers, which will be published by the North East Apprenticeship Service, in partnership with City & Guilds.

Categories for this year's awards are small employer of the year, medium employer of the year, large employer of the year and macro employer of the year.

Companies, or the apprentices themselves, have until March 25 to apply for the awards, with the winners announced at a ceremony in London on June 29.

John Hayes, minister of state for further education, skills and lifelong learning, is backing the awards. He said: "I have put apprenticeships at the heart of our skills strategy because they encourage ambition and enterprise, and help drive economic and social progress.

"These awards offer a great platform for young people and employers to gain recognition not just for excelling in their chosen field, but for playing a leading part in that vital process."

John Wayman, North East regional director for the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), said: "I would urge all North East employers and apprentices to enter this year's apprenticeship awards. "They recognise and reward employers and apprentices, and provide an opportunity to showcase their achievements on a regional and national basis.

"Every year it's fantastic to see first-hand how these inspirational apprentices are making such a positive impact on their employers and on the local community."

Last year, consumer goods company Procter & Gamble (P&G) was crowned North East macro employer of the year, in recognition of its apprenticeship programme for accounting apprentices, which is based at the company's Global Financial Service Centre in North Tyneside.

During a three-year programme working with Kaplan Financial, apprentices at P&G combine a full-time role in the finance and accounting department with part-time study for a professional qualification with the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT).

A successful partnership with Northumbria University means that apprentices can follow up their AAT qualification with a BA Honours degree in accounting and controls, which is subsidised by the company.

Sonja Howell, P&G's apprenticeship programme co-ordinator, said: "Through our apprentice programme, we believe we are moulding a stronger, brighter organisation for the future and offering exciting - potentially global - career opportunities to talented young people in the region.

"It is extremely rewarding to see our apprentices succeed and it was fantastic to have our programme recognised at such prestigious awards." Last year's event also saw Gateshead-based Michael Airey pick up the award for apprentice of the year after impressing bosses at Gateshead automotive firm Tanfield Body Repairs.

Michael, who studied a Gateshead College apprenticeship, has since completed his two-year placement at Tanfield, and is now working at the firm full-time, where he is hoping to complete further training.

He said: "Winning this award was great for me as it helped to boost my confidence and the confidence my employers have in my skills.

"Although my apprenticeship was in painting, I am starting to handle additional jobs as we are so busy. I left school with very few qualifications, so it was great that I was still given the opportunity to undergo training while earning a wage.

"I have always had a real passion for cars but hadn't thought about it for a career as I had no experience. …