Female apprentices win top accolades in areas traditionally dominated by males
Most of the highly skilled workers of the future will be female if this year's crop of the best apprentices is anything to go by.
Three out of four of the top Apprentice of the Year awards have gone to women - and two of them are training in the traditionally male-dominated worlds of aerospace and pharmaceuticals.
It is the first time the men have been outnumbered in the awards.
Claire Harrison, 21, was announced Apprentice of the Year. She completed an apprenticeship in "team leading" with North Lancs Training Group. She works for Dales Pharmaceuticals as team leader in the packing department, where absenteeism dropped from 11 per cent to 2 per cent within three weeks of her starting in the post.
Claire said: "My apprenticeship has made my confidence soar. Before I started, I had nothing to show for myself. I now understand that I can complete high-standard work and achieve qualifications to really help me get on in life.
"With the skills and knowledge I gained, I have helped the packing department improve budgets and efficiencies. I have also kept absenteeism below 3 per cent."
The award ceremony, in Westminster, was attended by John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and David Lammy, the skills minister.
The Advanced Apprentice of the Year is Rachael Hoyle, 21, who specialised in aerospace and engineering at BAE Systems and is now studying mechanical engineering at Manchester Metropolitan University.
She said: "If I'm honest, I didn't always want to be an engineer or work with aircraft and, as my schooling drew to a close, I felt unsure of what the future held. But when I looked into possible courses, apprenticeships really appealled to me as it would mean beginning a career and learning from people who are experts in their own right. I felt I could get involved in real work and in my favourite subjects, physics and maths."
The night was hosted by actress Amanda Holden, well-known for her appearances on ITV's Britain's Got Talent.
She said: "I'm so happy to have been involved in this year's Apprenticeship Awards. They've shown me that apprenticeships can help us unlock England's talent, and having judged various people's talent for a while now, I can say I'm truly honoured to have been part of this particular ceremony.
"On a personal level I'm also extremely proud to see three young, independent women doing so well in their respective fields. They really have shown that it's not always a man's world out there."
The Personal Achiever of the Year was named as Victoria Snook, 19, who completed a hairdressing apprenticeship through Preston College despite having to care for two younger brothers after the loss of both parents.
The Young Apprentice of the Year was Luke Power, 16, who studied sports management through Eltham Green Specialist Sports College in south-east London.