Inspirational nursery owner and Swansea care home win Wales’ VQ Awards

Posted on by karen.smith

An inspirational learner who runs her own bilingual nursery in Carmarthenshire and a Swansea care home claimed the main Vocational Qualification (VQ) Awards in Wales today (June 4).

Emma Thomas, 28, who set up ‘Dechrau Disglair’ (Bright Start) in St Clears in 2011 and now employs 24 staff caring for 35 children a day under the age of seven, won the VQ Learner of the Year Award while Hengoed Court care home, owned by Nicola and Tim Williams, was judged VQ Employer of the Year.

Inspirational Emma Thomas with her VQ Learner of the Year Award.

They were two of the nine finalists who attended the showpiece awards ceremony at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Nantgarw Campus on VQ Day, a celebration of people who have achieved success through vocational education in Wales.

The awards coincided with the publication of two new skills reports. The Institute of Public Policy Research revealed that, with 3.6 million skilled vacancies opening up across the UK over the next 10 years, vocational qualifications have never been in such demand.

In addition the Employer Skills Survey 2013 Wales report provides evidence that the Welsh economy is moving towards recovery and highlights the skills needed by employers across Wales and within sectors and occupations.

Wales’ Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, Ken Skates, presented the VQ awards and congratulated all the finalists for excelling in their vocational learning journey. He also called on employers and individuals to take responsible action on skills following the findings of both reports.

“Next month, we will be launching our Skills Implementation Plan, which sets out the actions we intend to take in developing the skills of the Welsh workforce and increasing levels of skills investment,” he said.

“VQ Day reminds us just how many Welsh employers and learners are already going that extra mile when it comes to developing skills. A VQ award is more than just an award; it’s a symbol of dedication towards your chosen profession.

“We have no intention of preaching to the converted, but if the Welsh economy is to continue to grow then we must ensure employers, individuals and the Welsh Government work together and invest in the right skills for success.”

Emma’s story is one of vocational achievement and progression. She left school at the age of 16 to realise her dream of running her own childcare business.

She had begun working with children with special needs in a holiday club at the age of 15, followed by a classroom assistant’s post in a primary school, where she achieved a Foundation Apprenticeship in Childcare within a year.

She then became after school club leader and progressed to an Apprenticeship in Childcare, which she completed in 2006 whilst working as deputy manager of a nursery.

Determined to set up her own nursery, she purchased and renovated an old school building in St Clears, working to a tight schedule. Leading her team by example, she has recently completed a Higher Apprenticeship in Childcare Leadership and Development Management and encourages all her staff to develop their skills and achieve vocational qualifications.

Emma, who was nominated by Maria Bradbourn, training mentor and Welsh champion at City and County of Swansea Lifelong Learning and Employment Training Service, described the award as “a great personal achievement” and she pledged to continue her learning journey.

“I have always had passion to work with children and want to be a role model for my team,” she said. “To ensure that I provide a very high standard child care environment for families, I need to have high quality staff who constantly improve their skills to fulfil their potential.”

Jubilant Hengoed Court owners Nicola and Tim Williams with their VQ Employer of the Year Award.

VQ Employer of the Year award winner, Hengoed Court, which has workforce of 220, has built its reputation on an ethos of promoting dignity, privacy, independence and respect, backed by a comprehensive staff training and development programme.

Opened in 1987, the care home has retained many of its original staff, demonstrating the support and opportunities provided by the owners. Nicola and Tim Williams have worked with Gower College Swansea for the past seven years to provide and deliver a range of accredited qualifications to upskill, motivate, empower and stimulate staff.

The home’s approach to care and training has been recognised by other care providers and the local authority in Swansea, with visits to the business undertaken to share best practice.

By the end of this year, all catering staff will be trained to a Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) level. All senior staff are developed to a QCF level 3 and the care staff workforce is well on its way to becoming 100 per cent QCF qualified.

“This award is recognition for all the hard work and effort that nobody ever sees,” said Tim, who praised the relationship the business had developed with Gower College Swansea.

“We work with and care for a lot of wonderful people and training is the foundation of our business. Our experience is that learning is a catalyst for many things and when people achieve it inspires them to continue achieving.

“Professional and personal development programmes are utilised for staff to enable them to follow a pathway of learning to meet company, customer and individual needs.

“We proactively seek out innovative training, such as integrating customer service and dementia care into mainstream social care qualifications – effectively combining statutory requirements with best practice.”

The other VQ Learner of the Year finalists were Matthew Edwards, an apprentice butcher with S. A. Vaughan Family Butchers, Penyfford, near Chester who was nominated by Cambrian Training Company, Ashleigh Zeta Jones and chef Rhys Sinfield who were both nominated by Bridgend College, Corey Nixon nominated by Gower College Swansea and Ebbi Ferguson who was nominated by Coleg Sir Gâr, Llanelli.

The VQ Employer of the Year finalists were domiciliary care provider Trusting Hands from Ebbw Vale and the multi-award winning Village Bakery, Wrexham.

VQ Day supports the aspiration that vocational qualifications should achieve parity of esteem alongside other educational routes.

Learning providers across Wales came together to celebrate VQ Day and engage with learners of all ages through providing interactive taster sessions in a range of skills at Coleg y Cymoedd’s Nantgarw Campus and Coleg Cambria’s Deeside Campus.

VQ Day and the VQ Awards are co-ordinated in Wales by ColegauCymru and the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW) with the support of the Welsh Government and part funded by the European Social Fund.

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