Neil honoured for helping apprenticeships to grow

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A former Sunderland apprentice has been honoured for his work to support those following in his footsteps.

Roker-born Neil Cain was named the City & Guilds Apprentice Champion of the Year at the National Apprenticeship Awards.

Neil, 52, is now Operations Director with national firm John O’Conner (Grounds Maintenance) Ltd – but started his career as a Horticultural Apprentice with Sunderland Recreation Department in 1980, and was chosen as the winner in recognition of the outstanding contribution he has made to apprenticeships since then.

“My apprenticeship with Sunderland Parks Department has been the foundation for over 30 successful years in the horticulture industry, providing personal and professional fulfilment,” he said.

“My progression from apprentice to Operations Director is a testament to the potential of apprenticeships and my biggest achievement. It’s evidence a university route is not the only option to exceptional careers, hence why I champion apprenticeships in addition to my job role within JOC and externally.”

In the late 1990s the maintenance of The Royal Parks was out-sourced. Neil was working for one of the new contractors and played an important role in supporting the apprentices who had moved across to the company.

It was not long before he was taking on wider responsibilities and his commitment to training and staff development came to the fore with his implementation of a site based-training programme.

He has been working to support The Royal Parks Guild to champion apprenticeships through initiatives such as mentoring and master classes.

“I am delighted to dedicate my personal time as a pro-active ambassador,” he said.

“I believe my story of progressing from apprentice to Operations Director enables me to offer strong experience/advice to apprentices.”