A “golden generation” of apprentices have been honoured for helping to turn a family run bakery into a massive success story.
The apprentices past and present from the Village Bakery were given special silver and gold pins commissioned from leading jewellers Boodles of Chester.
They were presented at the firm’s bakery in Minera, near Wrexham, by Clwyd South AM Ken Skates, who is also the Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport, who praised the Village Bakery as one of the best companies in Wales.
The family-run bakery employs nearly 400 people and has two other bakeries on Wrexham Industrial Estate where they are building their new £4 million Baking Academy and Innovation Centre to create the next generation of bakers.
More than 20 current and former apprentices received certificates at the ceremony with 15 of those who have come up through the ranks also receiving a special presentation.
The special V for Village pins were given to those who have completed their Level 3 NQQ qualifications.
Many of the former apprentices are now senior managers at the bakery that was last year named as the fastest growing manufacturer in Wales.
The pins are of solid silver with a golden ear of corn and Village Bakery Chairman Alan Jones said: “It makes me very proud to be here today to hand over these beautiful pins. This is the start for you, not the end, so go for it. You are our golden generation.
“Training our own staff has always been a strength of ours – we then make sure we have staff who buy in to the Village Bakery culture.”
It was a sentiment echoed by son Christien, who is also a director of the Village Bakery.
He said: “We are family focused, people focused and most of our managers and supervisors are Village Bakery people who have come up through the ranks.
“We have enjoyed some excellent, sustainable growth and we have a brilliant team on all three sites which gives us the confidence to go from strength to strength.”
Ken Skates, who made the presentations said: “Village Bakery are one of the best employers anywhere in Wales and that was shown last year with the St David Award.
“When I was Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology I learned so much about the value of vocational pathways and the average apprenticeship is worth the equivalent of a 2:1 university degree and I expect that for you it will be worth so much more because of the company you are working for.
“Since I was last here I’ve been eating far too many of your pies but I love coming here and that’s because of the people and it’s great to see your investment in people bringing such success.”
One of the recipients, Kerry Wilson, 41, from Tan y Fron, Wrexham, started as an apprentice at 16 and is now a production manager and he said: “A lot of the people here at the company started as apprentices and as the company has grown they have been able to progress.
“Alan was the boss and I’ve grown up with his sons, Robin and Christien, who are directors and they’re my friends as well as my employers. They’re so approachable.
“It’s worked well for the company to bring people through from within rather than recruit from outside. It means there’s a real local link to the company.”
Daryl Stephenson, 36, from Ruabon, qualified as a baker last year and he said: “They’re a great company to work for. They really invest in us and there’s not many places where the chairman will just come up and talk to you.
“Since I’ve completed my apprenticeship I’ve moved on into new product development so it has really worked for me.”
Tom Jackson, 20, from Coedpoeth, completed his Level Two last year and is working on Level Three and he said: “I was taken on two years ago and it’s gone from strength to strength and the way the directors get involved makes the company stand out.
“There’s a good career path and I want to progress and work my way up and take my opportunities.”
Village Bakery has up to 20 apprentices at Coleg Cambria in Wrexham each year and Carolyn Preece, the college’s Work-based Manager for Food Manufacture, said: “We have developed a very good relationship with Village Bakery over the last few years.
“They’re a very well respected firm. They’re very family-oriented and also very professional and very proactive and educating their staff is very important to them and they are reaping the reward.”