Inspirational stories of success were celebrated as a Cardiff and Vale College lecturer, a Merthyr Tydfil engineering graduate, a Flintshire higher apprentice and a Llanelli manufacturing company collected Wales’ Vocational Qualification (VQ) Awards last night.
A dozen finalists were shortlisted for the awards that recognise star employers, learners and trainers across Wales who have used technical, practical and vocational qualifications to achieve success.
Now in their 11th consecutive year, the VQ Awards were held at The Exchange Hotel, Cardiff to coincide with VQ Day.
Designed to reward individuals and organisations for their commitment, hard work and achievements, the awards are organised by the Welsh Government in partnership with the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW), ColegauCymru / CollegesWales and Qualifications Wales.
The VQ Learner of the Learner – Intermediate Award went to Merthyr Tydfil engineering graduate Brandon Jones. He has helped students from Cyfarthfa High School in Merthyr Tydfil to experience life in the fast lane by leading them to the national final of the F1 in Schools Challenge at Silverstone for two years running.
Brandon took on the role of team leader as part of his Welsh Baccalaureate Community Challenge whilst a student at The College Merthyr Tydfil and graduated last year with a double distinction star in Engineering. This year, he has helped the school again whilst studying Product Design at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
Martin Thomas, A level physics and BTEC Engineering tutor at The College Merthyr Tydfil, described Brandon as an “inspiration to his fellow students”.
Runners-up were Adam Griffiths, Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council, Pontypridd and Sophie Appleton-Hendy, Tommy’s Hair Salon, Llandudno.
The VQ Learner of the Year – Higher Award winner was Ethan Davies, described as a “model apprentice” by his peers. Through hard work and continuous learning, he has become a role model for young apprentices.
The 22-year-old has matured into a key member of staff at Electroimpact UK Ltd, Hawarden, through vocational education. But a competitive edge is steering his career path, having completed his Higher Apprenticeship in Engineering Manufacture Level 4 at Coleg Cambria whilst training to compete in WorldSkills as a part of the successful UK squad.
“My competition experience has enabled me to bring up-to-date, world-class skills to the company that have been a proven benefit to production over the past few years,” said Ethan.
The award completes a hat-trick for Electroimpact UK Ltd, who last year won the VQ Employer of the Year and VQ Trainer of the Year Awards.
Award runners-up were Laura Beale, Carmarthenshire County Council and Kieran Hunt, Hughes Forrest, in Blackwood.
The VQ Trainer of the Year Award winner was Tom Jones, a lecturer at Cardiff and Vale College, who champions experimental learning, often using body armour, protective equipment and army uniforms to get over a message.
Many of his 14-16 age group students may not have seen a school classroom for months, so engaging them in learning often requires a different approach. The fact that he has gone through his own dark days helps him relate to his students.
A damaged spine whilst training for the Royal Air Force left him in a wheelchair, with a history of operations and deep depression.
“I spent my first year teacher training in a wheelchair, the second on crutches, and the third barely walking,” he said. “I now run a cadet programme and hope my students can relate to me.”
Runners-up were: Gwenno Jones, Portal Training, Cardiff and Sue Jeffries, Sgil Cymru, Cardiff.
This year’s VQ Employer of the Year Award was won by Llanelli automotive manufacturer Gestamp Tallent Ltd, which is reaping the rewards of investing in training and developing its workforce.
Since taking over the Llanelli business in 2011, Gestamp has transformed its fortunes by investing in the plant and its people. The company is a key supplier to automotive customers including Jaguar Land Rover, Bentley and Honda.
From apprenticeships to undergraduate and compliance qualifications, Coleg Sir Gâr has supported the company and each of the 428 employees has an individual, tailored development plan.
“Achieving vocational qualifications and training are at the forefront of our business,” said Victoria Adams, the company’s training manager. “Promoting the personal and professional development of staff enables us to fulfil our other business objectives.”
Runners-up were: Little Inspirations Ltd, Llantrisant and Tai Tarian Housing Association, Neath.
In addition to the award ceremony, learning providers across Wales were encouraged to organise regional events that engage with learners of all ages on VQ Day.
Vocational qualifications are important to the economy, companies and individuals, as they deliver the trained, talented employees that businesses are crying out for and ensure young people have the skills needed to succeed in education and work.
Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning, Eluned Morgan congratulated the winners and finalists.: “A VQ award is a symbol of dedication towards a chosen profession, demonstrating to others a real commitment towards personal and professional development,” she said
“The awards help us to celebrate those Welsh employers, learners and trainers who are already going that extra mile when it comes to developing vocational skills and qualifications.”
The Apprenticeship Programme in Wales is funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund.