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Spotlight on city’s top apprentices

Apprentice and employer award winners with Iain Nixon, executive director of commercial activity (far left) and Sunderland College principal Ellen Thinnesen

Triumphant apprentices and employers are celebrating after an evening of prize-giving at Sunderland College.

The college’s inaugural Apprenticeship Awards were launched to recognise the outstanding achievements of apprentices and the commitment of the businesses and organisations who have supported them.
Accolades were handed out to eight apprentices and three employers at the ceremony, hosted at City Campus, the college’s new dedicated hub for professional and technical courses.
Sunderland College works with 400 businesses and organisations to offer apprenticeship support and in the last year has trained 1,300 apprentices in a range of job roles and industries including engineering, manufacturing, health and care, finance, and digital and IT.
Iain Nixon, executive director of commercial activity at Sunderland College, said: “Our Apprenticeship Awards are all about celebrating the remarkable achievements of our apprentices and their employers who provide valuable mentoring and support. We are working with more employers and apprentices than ever before and as apprenticeship provision continues apace, we feel it’s important to highlight the superb work that is being done in this area.
“The awards event, which is the first of its kind at the college, has been a great success. It was a privilege to meet some of our outstanding apprentices and learn more about how they have contributed to their workplace in such a positive way. And of course showcasing good practice by employers and recognising their commitment to their workforce is something we wanted to do from the outset, as it will help to inform our business strategy as we expand our apprenticeships further.”
More than 60 guests attended the special event, which was held in the college’s commercial and training restaurant City Bistro and featured entertainment by talented Sunderland College music students Arnold Fortuna and Ellie Booth.
One of the stars of the night was Charlotte Atkinson, 18, from Washington, who won Education Apprentice of the Year and describes her apprenticeship as ‘life changing’.
Once a student at The Link School, a pupil referral unit and alternative education centre, Charlotte was invited back by her headteacher to become its first ever apprentice.
She said: “I have been a member of staff at The Link School for two years and I am almost qualified as a teaching assistant. My apprenticeship has been the making of me. It has given me the confidence, skills, experience and qualifications to further my career. I would recommend any school leaver to embark on an apprenticeship journey.”
Another worthy winner was 18-year-old Grace Cogdon, from Seaburn, who was crowned Professional Business Services Apprentice of the Year.
Grace works as part of the work experience and apprentice team in City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, based at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
She said: “I’m absolutely ecstatic about winning this award. It really means a lot to be recognised for the hard work I am doing as a business administration apprentice.
“I thoroughly enjoy everything about my job. I have not only learned the basics of working within an office environment, but I have been trusted to do a lot of detailed and challenging work within my role. My apprenticeship has had a huge benefit and impact on my life as it has revealed the real world of work to me, while I’ve also been able to earn a qualification at the same time and get paid for doing so. The opportunities are endless with an apprenticeship, therefore I would advise anyone to give it a go.”
The Construction Apprentice of the Year award was presented to Steven Watson, 24, from Sunderland who is training to become a bricklayer with Gentoo.
He said: “It feels great to win this award. I’ve always had an interest in this industry and when the opportunity came up with Gentoo, I jumped at the chance. I really enjoy my apprenticeship and feel like I have benefitted by gaining lots of new skills and knowledge. Once I complete my qualification, I plan on staying with Gentoo, working as a maintenance bricklayer.”
Robbyn Griffiths, who is employed by Physical Education & Active Kids (PEAK) and is currently working at Hetton Lyons Primary School, scooped Sport Apprentice of the Year.
The 17-year-old from Houghton-le-Spring said she was ‘over the moon’ to win the award. She added: “I have loved my apprenticeship from day one. Working in a school environment is so rewarding and the staff from PEAK and Hetton Lyons have been so welcoming, as well as the children. When I started the apprenticeship I was quite shy and held back during school activities, whereas now I am leading them myself and I have become much more involved than I was. I can’t thank Sunderland College and PEAK enough for their support – I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for them.”
Sunderland College awarded Employer of the Year (Small Business) to Rokshaw Laboratories and Precision Geomatics Limited, and Employer of the Year (Large Business) to Sunderland Care and Support.
Jonathan Hodgson, business development director at Rokshaw Laboratories, said: “We are thrilled to receive the Employer of the Year award. We would like to thank Sunderland College and of course our apprentices for all the hard work and support. The recruitment and training partnership has really helped us through a rapid growth phase. The apprentices have been dedicated and hardworking and have become a huge asset to our business playing a vital role in our success to date.”
Carole Bookless, managing director of Precision Geomatics Limited, said it was an ‘honour’ to receive the award, adding: “We have always been passionate about developing young people, with the company always providing professional training and support to allow the new recruits to achieve their full potential. In addition, a lot of support and training has been provided by Sunderland College which has tailored many of their courses to suit the needs of our company.
“This level of cooperation has benefitted the company in many ways and we have been exceptionally fortunate in being able to retain staff by providing opportunities for promotion and offering experience in a range of departments within our organisation. We value input from the young apprentices and we will continue to offer job opportunities to hard working and talented young people who are eager to receive business and electronic engineering mentoring.”
For more information about apprenticeships, call 0191 5116484, email apprenticeships@sunderlandcollege.ac.uk or visit www.sunderlandapprenticeships.co.uk 
Learner Awards 
  • The Manufacturing and Engineering Apprentice of the Year – Connor Goodfellow
  • The Construction Apprentice of the Year – Steven Watson
  • The Digital and IT Apprentice of the Year – Matthew Humphrey
  • The Education Apprentice of the Year – Charlotte Atkinson
  • The Health and Care Apprentice of the Year – Andrew Milford
  • The Professional Business Services Apprentice of the Year – Grace Cogdon
  • The Sport Apprentice of the Year – Robbyn Griffiths
  • The Finance Apprentice of the Year – Lily Fotinou
Employer Awards 
  • Employer of the Year Award (Small Business) – Rokshaw Laboratories
  • Employer of the Year Award (Small Business) – Precision Geomatics Limited
  • Employer of the Year Award (Large Business) – Sunderland Care and Support



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