The work of an organisation that is plugging a skills gap with a Shared Apprenticeship Programme in Blaenau Gwent was recognised with a coveted award at the Apprenticeship Awards Cymru ceremony.

Aspire Blaenau Gwent collected the Large Employer of the Year Award at the annual awards, which celebrate outstanding achievement in traineeships and apprenticeships across Wales, held at the International Convention Centre Wales, Newport.

Tara Lane, Aspire Blaenau Gwent’s skills development manager, said: “We are absolutely ecstatic to win this award. We believe that apprenticeships plug the skills gap in Blaenau Gwent and provide the skilled workforce that employers need.”

The prestigious awards showcased the successes of the best learners, employers, tutors and assessors in Wales who have excelled in contributing to the development of the Welsh Government’s Traineeship and Apprenticeship programmes.

Jointly organised by the Welsh Government and the National Training Federation for Wales, the Apprenticeship Awards Cymru had Openreach, the UK’s digital network business, as its premier sponsor this year. The Apprenticeship Programme is funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund.

Aspire Blaenau Gwent’s Shared Apprenticeship Programme is breathing new life into the local workforce. The practice of rotating apprentices among host employers is well established within the local authority and enabling apprentices to fill skills gaps.

Since 2015, Ebbw Vale-based Aspire has tailored courses and arranged training to suit the needs of learners by providing additional opportunities in one of the most impoverished areas of Wales.

To date, it boasts an impressive 100 per cent record of apprentices being employed at the end of their programme, with 64 per cent retained by their initial host.

“The Aspire Shared Apprenticeship Programme is hinged on its success of partnership working,” said Tara. “As the project has developed, the networking and partnership circles have increased. In turn, the opportunities for the apprentices to achieve additional qualifications and to trial varying experiences have been presented.”

Aspire, which works closely with the Welsh Government, Ebbw Vale Enterprise Zone Board and Blaenau Gwent Local Authority, has been developing its training programmes with Coleg y Cymoedd.

“The Apprenticeship Programme has successfully engaged with 70 apprentices across multiple Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics pathways, developing a shared apprenticeship that has engaged over 20 employers in a region where apprenticeships engagement was non-existent,” said Matthew Tucker, Coleg y Cymoedd’s assistant principal.

“We consider this to be a sector leading partnership which has been so successful that it has been replicated in other local authority areas to address similar skills shortages.”

Minister for the Economy and Transport Ken Skates said: “The Welsh Government’s Apprenticeship and Traineeship programmes are helping increasing numbers of people to gain the skills, knowledge and experience that we know businesses across all sectors of the economy in Wales really need.

“The Apprenticeship Awards Cymru provides an excellent opportunity to celebrate and showcase the achievements of everyone involved in those programmes from our star apprentices and employers, to learning providers and trainees. Each one has played a vital role in setting the standard for vocational training and this is to be applauded.

“Increasing higher level skills and developing skills pathways that benefit the whole of Wales has never been more important.”