Leading companies from across the region have been recognised for their commitment to developing a skilled workforce though apprenticeships.

The region’s biggest bus operator, Go North East was named Large Employer of the Year and The Valley Nursery & Kids Club won Small Employer of the Year at Gateshead College’s annual Edge Awards for Apprenticeships.

Go North East was recognised for its commitment to developing new talent through apprenticeships and its forward-thinking approach to career progression for the trainees, which has enabled the firm to tackle skills shortages in the industry and across the region.

The Valley Nursery impressed judges with its ability to fast-track the careers of staff who work in a rapidly changing environment. This has enabled the firm to continue providing consistently high standards of care and support to children and their families.

In total, 15 awards were presented to employers and apprentices who excelled in a range of specialisms including construction, customer service, engineering and retail. A new accolade this year, the Outstanding Contribution to Apprenticeships Award, was presented to Ford Engineering chairman Geoff Ford MBE. He has pioneered the development of the Ford Training Academy in partnership with the college to ensure young people have the attitude, skills and knowledge to pursue a career in the manufacturing and engineering industries in the North East.

Other companies to be recognised include iconic bakery food-on-the-go retailer Greggs and Lear Corporation, a global automotive seating supplier, which are both delivering national apprenticeship programmes in partnership with Gateshead College.

Several students working within these firms and others also gained recognition for their hard work, including Rhys Donald, who was named Outstanding Apprentice of the Year. Rhys, an apprentice at Ford Engineering’s aerospace division, was commended for his engineering talents, general business acumen and willingness to spend time helping other apprentices.

The judging panel was made up of local industry experts including Paul Carbert, policy advisor at North East England Chamber of Commerce and Denis Heaney, enterprise coordinator at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership. Also on the panel were Robert Irving, head of Newcastle business support at Brewin Dolphin – winner of last year’s Large Employer of the Year Award – and Ivan Jepson, director of business development at Gateshead College.

Ivan Jepson said: “Our Edge Awards provide us with the opportunity to reward and recognise the fantastic achievements of our apprentices and also the companies that employ them. Each of our winners are living proof that apprenticeships have a positive impact on both businesses and individuals.

“Apprenticeships have transformed the lives of our individual winners, providing them with the skills and attitude to begin successful careers. As a college we will continue to champion them by engaging with businesses and supporting them on their journey to develop apprenticeship programmes further.”

Colin Barnes, head of engineering at Go North East, collected the company’s accolade. He said: “As the region’s third largest employer, we have a responsibility to provide local young people with the opportunity to build sustainable careers. Our unique engineering apprenticeship is helping to achieve this by equipping trainees with the tools and support needed to succeed at each stage of their learning, as well as future-proofing their skills.

“To be recognised by Gateshead College for our innovative approach to nurturing new talent, while simultaneously combating the skills deficit in the bus and coach industry and our region, is a fantastic achievement.”