Apprentice of the Year


Category criteria

  • This award recognises the progress and achievements made in both an educational setting and in the workplace.

  • Apprentices can be at any stage of their apprenticeship journey and can be working within any industry or sector.

  • They may be nominated by their employer or training provider or they may put themselves forward, endorsed by their employer.

Lucy Birks

Apprentice of the Year nominee

Lucy Birks has worked at Stoke-based buildings facades company Benx for just a year but she’s already been called an invaluable asset to the team.
The 18-year-old is studying for a Level 3 HR Support Apprenticeship with CT Skills Training alongside her full-time role in the Benx HR team.
Danielle Preston, Head of HR, said: “Lucy is an open-minded, forward-thinking individual with a wise head on her shoulders. The practical exposure she has gained within the HR world shines through in everything she does.
“Her ability to apply herself to real-world scenarios is apparent to everyone who works with her. She offers sound advice, clear guidance and support, all with a smile on her face.
“I couldn’t be prouder of her progress and dedication, having overcome personal challenges during her time with us. She is an asset to our team and an all-around wonderful person”.
Lucy’s responsibilities include creating a monthly employee newsletter and she’s developing key skills in recruitment, employee engagement and event management.
She has been nominated in the Apprentice of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Toni-Leah Sayce

Apprentice of the Year nominee

Toni-Leah Sayce may only be in the first year of her degree apprenticeship with Staffordshire University but her employers at Walsall Council say she is the dictionary definition of positivity, perseverance and loyalty.
She is studying for a Level 6 Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship alongside her job as a team leader in admin and business support at the council.
Anne-Marie Millard, Business Support Manager – Admin & Business Support at Walsall Council, said: “Toni is already putting what she is learning into her day-to-day work which is a win-win for everyone. If you were to look up positive culture, perseverance, accountability or loyalty to team – you would find Toni in the definition.
“Toni brings both strong assets and a personality to their role and I am fortunate to have her within my management team.
“She is dedicated and hardworking and is extremely focused on continuously learning and developing best practices to manage routine activities both efficiently and effectively. Toni brings a positive high energy and a personal touch.
“Toni genuinely cares about delivering excellent quality work and she strives to integrate both an understanding of the big picture strategy and goals as well as disseminating her knowledge to her wider team which in turn empowers them to own their decisions and workloads.
“She does not shy away from a challenge, which sets her apart from some peers. She consistently demonstrates a can-do attitude and will find a way to solve a problem.
“She is also a trusted member of the management team she supports and is included in staff discussions. She understands how to navigate sensitive situations and ensure confidentiality while also eager to learn the business so that her support is meaningful for the service.
“Part of Toni’s role is focusing on team culture and creating a positive work environment. she has a vision to foster team spirit with forms of recognition and camaraderie in creative ways. She recognizes that a simple thank you, recognition or a shared laugh can make a person’s day.
“I highly recommend Toni. She is motivated and positively engaged, serving as a true example of collaborative working.”
Toni-Leah has been nominated as an Apprentice of the Year in the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Nathan Heron

Apprentice of the Year nominee

Nathan Heron has already won two Apprentice of the Year awards and was a finalist in a national housing and building awards.
An apprentice gas engineer with Unitas Stoke-on-Trent, Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s repairs and maintenance company, he has been called a credit to the company and praised for his integrity and professionalism.
Nathan began his Gas Engineering Apprenticeship Level 3 with Stoke-on-Trent College in 2020 and is now in the final year of his course.
He assists fully trained gas engineers on day-to-day activities including annual gas servicing and safety inspections, installing domestic heating systems, boilers, responsive repairs and planned maintenance in resident’s homes and public buildings.
His employers say he has shown the ability to deal with awkward situations, customers who have been challenging and confrontational situations and has taken these in his stride.
Nathan’s operational team leader and mentor said: “If Nathan continues his ability and development he will definitely become an excellent engineer.”
Nathan has volunteered to attend three career events over the past two years, both inside and outside of his working hours, to promote apprenticeships within the construction industry.
He was awarded Unitas’ Apprentice of the Year Award 2023 to recognise and celebrate his achievements.
In 2023 Nathan was named Stoke-on-Trent College’s Gas Apprentice of the Year and was a finalist at the APSE Housing and Building Apprentice of the year awards 2023.
Now he has been nominated in the Apprentice of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Frances Evans

Apprentice of the Year nominee

Frances Evans returned to education over the age of 40 and is currently studying for a degree apprenticeship with Staffordshire University alongside her job leading the housing benefit team at Walsall Council.
She is currently on track to graduate with first class honours from her Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship despite juggling her studies, a full-time job and caring for her two neurodivergent teenagers and a toddler.
Frances has been nominated as Apprentice of the Year in the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
Neil Hollyhead, Customer Engagement Lead for Walsall Council, said: “As a busy mom, a senior manager in a demanding environment and an apprentice all at once Fran has to work in the evenings and weekends and balance her learning around her family life.
“Fran absolutely thrives on this challenge, and in recent modules achieved 94 on an assignment with her lecturer saying it was the highest mark she’d ever given!
“Fran is one of the most open and caring individuals I have ever met, and despite all these pressures she always has time for others. Her children have varying diagnoses and due to her experiences Fran wanted to help other parents with newly diagnosed autistic children, previously training as a Cygnet practitioner to help other parents.
“She is the go-to person at work for anyone with a problem, and passionately enjoys sharing her academic learning with other colleagues to help them and associated teams improve. She is an absolute pleasure to work with and it has been my honour to mentor her on this apprenticeship programme.”
Tina Allen, Course Director for Apprenticeships at Staffordshire University, said: “I had the privilege of teaching Frances for her first module and from her first day it was evident that Fran’s motivation and positivity was going to be a driving force in her success.
“Throughout her learning journey to date she has demonstrated a high level of progression, commitment and professional development on the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship. Throughout this apprenticeship, Frances has attacked her studies whole heartedly and maintained grades of 70+ for each module to ensure she reaches her aspirational grade of a first-class honour’s degree.
“Her approach to her studies, and the knowledge transfer and application in the workplace has been outstanding. As a result, Frances has gained promotion at work.
“Fran continues to champion the CMDA and uses her experience to inspire and motivate other potential CMDA apprentices. Fran is a testament to the creativity and ambition of our university.
“Through work-based education she has ensured she can apply those skills at work to enable her employer to achieve their goals and equip colleagues with the skills they need in a rapid and challenging sector through professional leadership and management.”

Rebecca Langston

Cornish Seal Sanctuary

Rebecca Langston works at a seal sanctuary on the Cornish coast but she’s studying for her apprenticeship with Staffordshire University.
She is due to complete her level 5 operations/departmental manager apprenticeship this year and will start a level 6 chartered manager apprenticeship in September.
Rebecca, who works at The Cornish Seal Sanctuary, has been praised for her unwavering commitment to her studies despite facing personal problems along the way.
She has been nominated as Apprentice of the Year in the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
Her line manager Sarah Pegg, Head of Operations with seal sanctuary owner Merlin Entertainment, said: “I am thrilled to support Becky’s nomination for this award in recognition of her dedication to her apprenticeship.
“Throughout her apprenticeship, Becky has consistently displayed unwavering dedication to her studies. Despite encountering personal challenges, she has demonstrated remarkable resilience, overcoming obstacles with determination.
“Becky’s commitment to her personal and professional growth is evident not only in her academic pursuits but also in the support she extends to her colleagues.
“Thanks to the apprenticeship program, I’ve witnessed a significant boost in Becky’s confidence, empowering her to effectively engage with key stakeholders.
“This newfound confidence has been instrumental in her role as she championed our application for education certification in order to position us as a leader and preferred destination for school visits.”

Carla Thomas

Apprentice of the Year nominee

Carla Thomas joined The Inspirational Learning Group as part of the Government’s Kickstart scheme and soon found herself presenting on webinars and dealing with hundreds of customers and stakeholders.
The Stafford-based careers and skills provider, which was founded by Staffordshire University alumni, was keen to keep Carla after her Kickstart placement ended so she was offered a full-time role as an apprentice.
Carla completed a level three apprenticeship in accounting with EMA Training and is now studying for level four.
The 26-year-old, from Stafford, acts as the sole point of contact for all financial matters within the company.
Ben Dyer, co-founder of The Inspirational Learning Group, said: “We are incredibly proud of Carla and all that she has accomplished whilst working at TILG. She is a fantastic member of our team, reliable, hardworking and never afraid to challenge a process.
“Carla’s work ethic is exemplary and she is able to confidently apply what she has learnt in her apprenticeship to her finance role with us. It has been a pleasure seeing Carla grow in confidence and skill during her time with us and we look forward to where her apprenticeship will take her.”
Grace Challinor, Business Manager at TILG, said: “Carla really impressed me during her Kickstart placement with her ability to throw herself into any given task and to confidently take on tasks that pushed her out of her comfort zone.
“One particular stand out moment during the placement involved Carla presenting our Kickstart offering to young people in Stoke on Trent during an online event. Her presentation skills were excellent and she demonstrated her ability to relate to her audience.
“Her support to the Kickstart team was in addition to Carla supporting me with daily financial tasks - which again she completed to an extremely high standard and even offered solutions or alternative ways of working which were implemented”.
Carla has been nominated in the Apprentice of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Hannah Richards

Apprentice of the Year nominee

Hannah Richards is so dedicated to her apprenticeship course at Staffordshire University that she planned the birth of her child around her assignment deadlines.
Hannah, who works for Merlin Entertainments, has been called ‘one of the most conscientious and determined apprentices I have ever met’ by her work-based education officer.
Alongside her role at Birmingham Sealife Centre and The Bear Grylls Adventure she is studying for a Level Six Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship.
She first joined the University in 2019 for an Operations/Departmental Manager Apprenticeship.
Hannah is a volunteer mentor, helping other people through their apprenticeship journey.
Su Wright-Lewis, a Work Based Education Officer at Staffordshire University, said: “Hannah is an absolute ambassador for Merlin and for Staffordshire University and is a shining example of professional and personal development.
“I am so proud to see her continuing to succeed on her Level 6, and to have achieved numerous role changes and promotions, all of which she takes in her stride and absolutely deserves.”
Lee Phillips, General Manager at Merlin, said: “Hannah continues to drive her career to new heights, whilst balancing her life outside of the workplace with her young family and continuing to excel in her studies.
“Her reputation has only continued to grow as a result and she has since gone on to support on key projects at other Merlin attractions and undertake key strategic projects at a regional level.
“Hannah also continues to ensure that the next generation of learners and leaders excel in their studies and work and remains a strong advocate for the benefits of the style of learning, which resonates strongly with, and motivates, her team to pursue it.
“Speaking as Hannah’s line manager, I cannot thank her enough for her drive, determination and dedication to pursuing excellence and for her support and willingness to embrace challenge and learning.
“I have no doubt that through the continued learning from her apprenticeship and workplace experience she will progress in her career and achieve all she is capable of.”
Hannah has been nominated in the Apprentice of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Jasmine Pugh

Apprentice of the Year nominee

There wasn’t a Staffordshire branch of the RICS Matrics early career community so apprentice surveyor Jasmine Pugh set one up herself.
In just three months the 21-year-old, who works at Jonathan Cornes Associates in Newcastle-under-Lyme, has grown the group to include eight young construction industry professionals.
Jasmine, from Oswestry in Shropshire, is in her fourth year of a five-year Building Surveying Apprenticeship with Salford University.
During National Apprenticeship Week and Women in Construction 2024 Jasmine was approached by three separate teams from Salford University asking her to feature in their marketing and social media campaigns.
Trudy Traynor, Business Manager at Jonathan Cornes Associates, has nominated Jasmine in the Apprentice of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
She said: “Jas’s dedication, hard work and positive attitude make her a shining example of what an apprentice should be. She not only excels in her studies and work but she also goes above and beyond to support her colleagues and promote the apprenticeship route to others.
“Her willingness to take initiative, seek out new challenges and continuously improve herself sets her apart from her peers. She is a true asset to our team and a role model for other young professionals in the field. I have no doubt that she will continue to thrive and make a significant impact in the industry.”
Jasmine said: “It’s incredible to be nominated for an award. I’ve never really been put forward for anything like this before. It’s a nice feeling.”

Ben Haywood

Apprentice of the Year nominee

Ben Haywood suffered severe anxiety at secondary school but now, as an apprentice at Feasted, he has the confidence to devise his own dishes and present them to customers.
He joined the food-based CIC around a year ago, volunteering for six months before starting a level two apprenticeship in Hospitality.
He has become a key member of the team and acts as a mentor for new recruits at the business based at the Spode Works in Stoke-on-Trent.
Cris Cohen, CEO of Feasted, said: “Ben is consistently exceeding all expectations of his development. Every time he reaches a plateau he is already seeking out the next step and pushing forward with excellence.
“He is a great example of someone who is, against the odds, building a fantastic career for themselves.”
He added: “Ben won’t mind it being said that when he started working in the kitchen his skill level and understanding was lower than other members of the team, but he didn’t let this phase him.
“Ben has clearly grown through adversity, having experienced severe anxiety during his time at secondary school. Even at this early stage of his apprenticeship he is now far exceeding the standards and expectations put on him.
“In a short time, Ben has become an integral part of our team, both independently creating and collaborating on dishes for Chef’s Table, taking control of his development and telling his story on his own terms to our customers.
“What has really been a great pleasure to watch is Ben’s development as a mentor, this is an area where he really shines; passing down his positivity and wisdom to other young people.
“He is a Stokie through and through and takes great pride in creating dishes which celebrate the rich and diverse heritage of our city.”
Ben Haywood has been nominated in the Apprentice of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Dylan Hawthorne

Apprentice of the Year nominee

Dylan Hawthorne may be at a relatively early stage in his apprenticeship but he is already managing the day to day running of a project for a client in the nuclear industry.
Dylan joined Stone-based technology firm Capula in September 2022 and is currently completing a Level 6 Embedded Electronic Systems Design and Development Engineer Apprenticeship at Staffordshire University.
He has already completed a Level 3 Engineering BTEC.
Dylan is the technical lead overseeing the build of cabinets for one of Capula’s biggest nuclear customers.
With the guidance of a lead hardware engineer, site manager and programme manager, Dylan manages the day-to-day running of the project and liaises with the production team to ensure they have all the necessary stock and resources.
David Lohel, Lead Hardware Engineer and Dylan’s Line Manager, said: “Dylan has many strengths but in particular his initiative, work ethic and curiosity means he can apply himself to any task and perform well.
“Dylan shows a willingness to help and his character has a positive impact for the wellbeing of the people around him. The client feedback is evidence of this.”
Scott Phillips, Programme Manager, said: “I cannot speak more highly of how Dylan conducts himself and what an asset he is to Capula. He takes responsibility for most of the design on a significant scope of work for Capula, communicating effectively, participating and often leading meetings both internally and with the client.
“Dylan’s can-do attitude ensure he delivers to deadlines with an ability to think outside the box and investigate new ways of doing things to delivery efficiencies. He is also one of the nicest people you could wish to meet and always has a smile. I’m extremely proud to have him working with me.”
Dylan has been nominated in the Apprentice of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

Jordan Purcell

Apprentice of the Year nominee

From the moment Jordan Purcell stepped into his grandad’s workshop as a child he knew he wanted to be a joiner.
As a four-year-old he loved nothing more than getting his hands dirty turning wood. Thirteen years on he is four months into doing a job he loves at Leek-based wood door and window manufacturer Brookeswood Joinery Ltd.
The 17-year-old is a Joinery Apprentice and is currently helping carry out fittings on site as well as remedial works but he will take on more responsibilities as his apprenticeship progresses.
He’s already hit the ground running with colleagues calling him a breath of fresh air, enthusiastic, hard-working and incredibly skilled.
Jordan said: “I learnt a lot watching my grandad make things from wood in his workshop – so much so that growing up I always knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
“His craftsmanship always fascinated me, and I knew that I wanted to learn the skills he had and make the things he could.
“My apprenticeship is teaching me so much. The team here are great – I am learning new skills and enjoying every second at Brookeswood.
“For me there is no better job than this and I can’t wait to carry on learning and developing.”
Brookeswood Installation Manager Steve Roberts said: “Jordan really is a rising star. He’s one of the best apprentices we’ve ever had. He has a natural talent and his aptitude to learning is second to none.
“In terms of his ability, he is far more advanced than you would expect for someone his age. He really cares about what he’s doing, really wants to learn and isn’t afraid to ask questions.
“Jordan has an incredibly bright future ahead of him and we are delighted that he is part of the Brookeswood Team.”
Brookeswood Director Sue Brookes said: “Jordan might have only been with us for a few months but he’s quickly become an integral part of the team.
“He’s incredibly hard working, is a quick learner and is never afraid to go the extra mile. He’s quickly become a real asset to Brookeswood and has an exciting career ahead of him.”
Jordan’s Skills Coach at Stoke-on-Trent College said: “Jordan has a very good attitude towards attending the workplace and has good communication skills. His attendance in college is 100% and the report from his tutor is that he well behaved and a very capable individual in this trade, with great attention to details.
“I was very impressed with his attitude towards his apprenticeship. The feedback from his tutors is excellent and he is a committed young man who seems to know what he wants from this apprenticeship.”
Since the age of seven Jordan has enjoyed working on his own woodwork projects and in 2017, at the age of just ten, set up his own Instagram page to show off his craftmanship.
Jordan has been nominated in the Apprentice of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

William Latham

Apprentice of the Year nominee

Newly qualified engineer William Latham has designed a piece of equipment that has already saved his employer more than £20,000.
He was named Leoni Apprentice of the Year in 2022 and won three awards when he graduated from Staffordshire University in July 2023 with a first class honours degree in electrical and electronic engineering, including being named the best in his graduating year.
Andrea Mackrory, HR Business Partner at Leoni Wiring Systems UK Ltd, has nominated William in the Apprentice of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.
She said: “To be a good Engineer is easy. To be an excellent engineer needs people skills. Will possesses these in abundance. His demeanour and communication skills are exemplary. Added to this is his great sense of humour.
“Will is enthusiastic and well-motivated and a pleasure to have in the department. He offers forward some very modern ideas. He is prepared to take on any new task and it is now a joke that if it needs fixing, ask Will.
“Will’s approach to all aspects of work-related activities within engineering are delivered in a professional, friendly manner at all levels. His willingness to find solutions and share his thoughts make him stand out.
“We are so proud of what Will has achieved so far. We are confident he will continue to grow as a person, become a lead expert in his field, grow the Vehicle Measurement cross functional team relationship, make new friends within the international community and most of all just be Will.”
William joined Leoni in September 2018 as an engineering apprentice and started the Level 6 Embedded Electronic Systems Design and Development Engineering Apprenticeship later that month at Staffordshire University.
In 2020 he took up a post in the Leoni test and validation laboratory as a technician.

Olivia Kewney

Apprentice of the Year nominee

Olivia Kewney is following in the footsteps of her parents and both of her grandfathers to become an audiologist.
She is studying on an audiology degree apprenticeship course at De Montfort University alongside working at Leek Hearing Centre and at the five other practices across Staffordshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire that are part of her family’s business.
Olivia began her course in 2023 and before her first year was completed was invited through her university to travel to India to work in a hospital assessing and fitting hearing aids for underprivileged people of all ages.
“This has been a life changing, eye opening but wonderful experience for Olivia. It was certainly not easy and required a strong mind and heart,” said her mum Clare Kewney, an audiologist and the founder of The Hearing Centres.
“The feedback we had from the University and from the hospital about Olivia’s conduct and work made us all so proud of her and it’s something we know she would love to do again.”
Alongside working in the family business, once a month she travels to the Isle of Man to work at another independent hearing practice to gain extra experience and to see how another practice operates.
Clare said: “Through her training Olivia has been a dedicated and extremely mature and hardworking student. Eager to learn, push herself and establish herself as a valued member of the team.
“Olivia’s attitude and personality is quite special as whilst she is focused on doing whatever it takes to complete her course, preferably with a distinction in her eyes, she does not allow this single mindedness to take away from what needs to be done when in clinic, delivering an excellent service to our patients.
“Her kindness, communication skills, empathy and general work ethic, especially for such a young person, is regularly commented on and admired. Already our patients are asking to see her which is a true sign that she is doing a great job.”
Clare has nominated Olivia in the Apprentice of the Year category of the Staffordshire University Business Awards.

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