A HARTLEPOOL café that sits at the heart of the local community has been named as one of the country’s most outstanding apprenticeship employers.
Place in the Park, located in Ward Jackson Park, was recognised by the Department for Education for its vital work boosting career opportunities for local people.
The business has worked with Northern Skills, the apprenticeship and training arm of Middlesbrough College Group, for more than four years to upskill staff and bring in new talent and was ranked an impressive 25th in the Top 50 National SME Apprenticeship Employers 2022 – much to the surprise of owner Maria Seymour.
Maria, who has run the café for more than 14 years, said: “I couldn’t believe it when I opened the email – I thought it was a joke.
“We’ve been employing apprentices for years but thought this type of recognition was only for well-known, national employers.
“Apprentices play a huge role in our business so to know that we’re making a difference really means the world. It’s incredible watching our apprentices gain so much confidence in their role and realise how important what they do is.
“Most apprentices end up working with us in full time and although some may eventually end up moving on to bigger things, they’ll leave having built fundamental skills that will last a lifetime – both personally and professionally.”
Current apprentices Leanne Eagle, 36, Ella Brown, 23 and 18-year-old Molly Gilchrest all completed a Level 2 Catering and Hospitality apprenticeship with Northern Skills, covering all aspects of hospitality and catering from cooking and serving to managing bookings and ensuring all legal requirements are met. They’ve all since secured full time roles at the café and Maria is now looking for a new apprentice to join the business as a coffee shop assistant.
All Northern Skills programmes are carried out in the workplace, meaning learners get proper hands-on experience, as well as online and in the specialist industry-leading training environments at Middlesbrough College – including its commercial training restaurant, Waterside Brasserie.
Wendy Wright, NVQ Work Based Assessor at Northern Skills, said: “It’s been a pleasure working with Maria to help build her workforce and we were incredibly proud to see Place in the Park up there among this country’s leading apprenticeship employers.
“From bringing new staff into the business to equipping existing employees with the skills they need to progress, apprenticeships have proved to be the perfect recipe to success for Maria.
“There are huge benefits to both employers and learners alike. Our programmes are bespoke and can encompass a whole range of different training methods that can be tweaked and modified to suit a business’s needs.
“And for apprentices, it’s a great route to either step onto the career ladder, retrain, or progress into a more senior role – learning on the job as you earn a living.
“We work with more than 1,500 businesses across the region to support learners and employers in more sectors at more skill levels than ever before – and would encourage anyone considering an apprenticeship to get in touch.
“We could be seeing their name on the list next year, just like Place in the Park!”
The Top 50 National SME Apprenticeship Employers list is designed to showcase the very best of England’s apprenticeship employers, with those listed recognised for providing some of the most successful apprenticeship programmes over the previous 12 months.
In addition to being included in the final 50, Maria has been invited to the House of Lords to attend a reception lunch in September.
She added: “We couldn’t have done this without the support of Northern Skills and Middlesbrough College Group. We’ve worked together for so long and Wendy and the team have really integrated into our business and understand how we work.
“I think sometimes employers can be apprehensive about taking on apprentices but what I’ve gained, far out ways the time I spend training them.”
More information on Northern Skills’ apprenticeship scheme for employers can be found at https://www.northernskills.co.uk/employers.