Apprenticeship helps secure future of traditional Welsh art-form

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Foundation Apprentice of the Year finalist Gwilym Bowen Rhys with Trefor Owen of Trefor Owen Clog Makers, Criccieth

A 24-year-old man from north Wales has not only completed an unusual apprenticeship, he has helped secure the future of a traditional Welsh art-form.

Foundation Apprentice of the Year finalist Gwilym Bowen Rhys at work at Trefor Owen Clog Makers, Criccieth
Foundation Apprentice of the Year finalist Gwilym Bowen Rhys at work at Trefor Owen Clog Makers, Criccieth

Gwilym Bowen Rhys, from Bethel, has used the Welsh Government’s apprenticeship programme to complete a Level 2 Framework apprenticeship with Criccieth-based clog maker Trefor Owen.

With a passion for Welsh music, popular and folk, Gwilym had no previous experience in clog making before he began his apprenticeship.

“The apprenticeship was a natural progression from traditional Welsh music for me,” he said. “When I became aware that one of the only full-time clog makers in Wales was on my door step, I wanted to ensure that clog making skills not only continued, but are handed down to future generations.”

Gwilym has now been shortlisted for the Foundation Apprentice of the Year award at this year’s Apprenticeship Awards Cymru, which take place at Venue Cymru, Llandudno on October 20.

Jointly organised by the Welsh Government and the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW), the prestigious awards celebrate the outstanding achievements of individuals, employers and learning providers who have excelled in contributing to the development of the Welsh Government’s Traineeships, Jobs Growth Wales and Apprenticeship programmes.

Funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund, the awards are sponsored by Pearson PLC and supported by media partner, Media Wales.

Trefor Owen, who has been making clogs for 39 years, has taught Gwilym the traditional techniques required for production of clogs, using local, sustainably-sourced wood. The wood for the soles, for example, comes from the nearby Glynllifon estate.

Trefor said: “It’s been good fun working with Gwilym on his apprenticeship. He’s an intelligent lad with a sponge-like ability to absorb information.”

Paul Edwards, Creative Media Manager for the training provider, Coleg Menai, added: “We believe Gwilym should be Foundation Apprentice of the Year because of his commitment and excellent work. It shows the potential of apprenticeships to transform lives, support the community and ensure that traditional skills are handed down.”

Gwilym’s apprenticeship was funded by the Creative and Cultural Skills Sector Council.

Wales’ Minister for Skills and Science Julie James congratulated Gwilym and the other 32 shortlisted award finalists. “We are proud to be delivering one of the most successful apprenticeship programmes in Europe with success rates in Wales remaining well above 80 per cent,” she said.

“Developing skilled people is vital for our economy. We have some truly exceptional apprentices here in Wales and the Apprenticeship Awards Cymru provide a perfect platform for us to celebrate their hard work and achievements. Equally important are the learning providers and employers who go the extra mile to support their apprentices.”