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Pizza maker wins Apprentice of the Year Award

A pizza maker from Leyland in Lancashire has won the prestigious Apprentice of the Year Award, beating entrants from all industries and trades throughout England.

Jonathan Pearson, 22, works for Schwan's Consumer Brands, makers of Chicago Town and Freschetta frozen pizzas, and was one of three people selected as national finalists in the competition. The judges' decision was announced last night (Wednesday 20 June) at the annual Apprenticeship Awards at London's Hilton on Park Lane. The award was presented by Chris Banks, chairman of the Learning and Skills Council, the organisers of the awards.

Jonathan, who works in a factory of 400 employees at Schwan's, completed his apprenticeship in food-and-drink manufacturing operations, and grasped the skills to succeed so quickly that within five months of finishing the programme he was promoted to his current role of deputy team leader. He has already started to work towards gaining a team-leading qualification.

Jack Matthews, chief executive of Improve, the food and drink sector skills council, which oversees the structure of apprenticeships in the sector, said: “It's hats off to Jonathan Powell and all those who have mentored and supported him through his apprenticeship. This award is a major boost for the whole food and drink manufacturing sector.

“It demonstrates that with the right approach to learning and skills, employers in increasingly competitive markets can recruit young people of high calibre and then help them grow and make bigger contributions to productivity. Schwan's, as an example, increased its manufacturing output by 6.5 per cent in 2006.”

In his current role, Jonathan is not only responsible for the quality of all the products within the bakery, but also for maintaining safe working practices at all times. He works with his team to keep them motivated and to meet targets, while minimising downtime and maintaining productive efficiency in the bakery. He is also a member of the health and safety team, and has actively contributed to reducing accidents by 50 per cent in the last 12 months.

He said: “As part of the ongoing development of the team and the company as a whole, I have assisted in creating troubleshooting manuals to help new employees, night-shift staff, and other personnel to help reduce downtime during changeovers. My apprenticeship has not only given me a great sense of wellbeing and security, but it has also given me the confidence to aim for the top.”

On behalf of Jonathan's employer, business improvement manager Mike Hyland said it was a combination of structured training, and Jonathan's personal commitment that had enabled him to achieve so much, illustrated by his selection as Employee of the Month in July 2006. “He is a role model to younger employees in other departments,” he said.

Donna Coleman, scheme co-ordinator at North Lancs Training Group, which delivered Jonathan's apprenticeship programme, said: “Jonathan is a prime example of what can be achieved through an apprenticeship. With the right guidance and a lot of hard work, individuals can succeed in their chosen sector. We are so proud of Jonathan – he has already won our award for the Best Overall Apprentice.”

Stephen Gardner, director of apprenticeships at the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), the organiser of the awards, said: “At a time when our nation's skill levels need to be improved, apprentices are excellent examples of people who are making plans for their futures by learning the skills and knowledge they will need. Their dynamic attitude to work is recognised by the LSC's national Apprenticeship Awards. The Awards are now in their fourth year – a positive sign of the outstanding contribution individuals and UK business are making to raise skills levels and improve productivity and competitiveness nationally.

To find out more about the Apprenticeship Awards, visit www.apprenticeships.org.uk/awards or call the Awards team on 0870 143 6983. Today, more than 130,000 businesses employ 250,000 apprentices in England alone, in industries ranging from accountancy to engineering, personnel to plumbing and football to furniture. This year's Awards attracted over 1,000 entries from apprentices and employers all vying to be named Apprentice or Employer of the Year at the ceremony in June.

Improve is one of 25 sector skills councils established by the government to take the lead in driving up skills in the workplace in order to promote higher productivity and stronger competitiveness for UK businesses in the global market. Funded primarily by the government, sector skills councils are also supported by employers in their sectors, whose needs they represent when stimulating change among the providers of education and skills. Sector skills councils work closely with employers to promote greater commitment to improving skills in their workforces, and with schools, colleges, universities, and private training organisations to improve the provision of basic skills training and to make vocational and occupational training more relevant to the modern commercial climate.

Issued on behalf of Improve, the food and drink sector skills council, www.improveltd.co.uk, by Nexnet PR, Leeds, www.nexnet.co.uk. For further information call Nexnet on 0113 247 0029 or email katrina.gill@nexnet.co.uk or will.swales@nexnet.co.uk.

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