The winners of the National Apprenticeships Awards 2020-21 have been named at a prestigious ceremony in London.
It was the 18th time the event has been staged, but the first as a hybrid event, with Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and Minister for Skills Alex Burghart attending the evening at 30 Euston Square. It was hosted by BBC TV presenter Dan Walker, himself something of an apprentice on the dance floor.
The event, which is designed to recognise and highlight the importance of apprenticeships and the work done by apprenticeship training providers, came with 18 different award categories, from overall sector awards to the best apprenticeship schemes in the nine English regions. Each category also had two highly commended entries.
Speaking at the event, Mr Zahawi said: It was a pleasure to attend the ceremony, and to have the opportunity to take part in a celebration which recognises the very best apprenticeship employers and their dedicated and driven apprentices.
He added: “Apprenticeships are key to supporting the country to level up skills and opportunity, and recognising the commitment of these employers and individuals further highlights their importance.”
The Midlands, North West and the Yorkshire and Humber regions were well represented at the event, with the Lloyds Banking Group Award for Rising Star going to Nihal Dhillon of JCB Excavators in the West Midlands. JCB also picked up a highly commended notification in the BT Award for Advanced Apprentice of the Year, which went to Gavin Archer of JCB Earthmovers.
A further two highly commended notifications went to apprentices in the North West, these being Khadija Al-Selini at IBM in the Royal Navy Award for Higher or Degree Apprentice of the Year and Cameron Ackroyd at Bentley Motors in the Lloyds Banking Group Award for Rising Star category.
West Midlands apprenticeship providers gaining awards included Lander Automotive, which gained the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT Award for SME Employer of the Year prize, and J.C. Bamford Excavators, which picked up the Maersk Award for Macro Employer of the Year.
In Yorkshire and the Humber, the Maersk Award for Macro Employer of the Year went to Lloyds Banking Group, while Labcorp secured the NCFE Award for Recruitment Excellence.
The event also recognised the efforts of many employers and training providers to keep apprenticeships going during the pandemic.
As Business Live noted, there was a major drop in new apprenticeships last year as firms put staff on furlough and social distancing made it harder to carry out instruction in person.
However, there were also some positives; the 2020-2021 Annual Report by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education showed that 50,000 people were able to complete their training last year because of the introduction of online learning.
Moreover, there is optimism that as the UK has emerged from lockdowns, apprenticeships will increase. According to the Build the Future Apprenticeship Survey from the Open University, 70 per cent of employers believe apprenticeships will be critical to helping businesses recover and 72 per cent plan to take on more apprentices in the next year.
Speaking to the publication, Sandra Cowley, the commercial director of Nottingham-based training provider Futures for Business, said “It’s great to see employers’ confidence in training new recruits and their existing workforce in an apprenticeship is increasing”.