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Apprentice, Ben, makes history at regional awards ceremony

An Eastleigh College apprentice has successfully won a place in the South East Regional Final for the national ‘Apprentice of the Year 2019’. No mean feat for anyone, but especially significant for 22-year-old Ben Cornmell who is autistic and one of the first in the UK to be employed on a supported apprenticeship. 

Ben, who is at the higher functioning end of the autistic spectrum, is completing an NVQ Level 2 Facilities Services Apprenticeship and works at chimney sweep and stove installation company, Waltham Black, which is based in Bishops Waltham. No special allowances were afforded as he vied against over 1,000 other apprentices to win his place, making him the first supported apprentice to have successfully made it to a regional final in the National Apprenticeship Awards’ 16-year history.

Run by the National Apprenticeship Service, which is part of the Government’s Skills Funding Agency, the awards provide a platform to showcase excellence in and raise awareness of apprenticeships at all levels and across all industries. Ben will be attending the South East Apprenticeship Awards ceremony in Guildford later this month.

Waltham Black’s owner, Neil Cornmell, said: “We initially offered Ben a supported internship. I’m also his uncle and welcomed the opportunity to help him gain some work experience and employability skills. He did so well, and this naturally progressed to a formal apprenticeship. I have previously done an apprenticeship myself so had a good understanding of them; the way they help shape someone in the culture of the firm and encourage good working habits from the start of their career. The support Ben gets from Eastleigh College has also been reassuring, especially with health and safety requirements.”

Ben is 12 months into his 18-month facilities service apprenticeship. His duties include introducing himself to clients on arrival, smoke testing to check the integrity of the chimney, providing safety and sustainable fuel advice and helping with repairs. He is in the process of learning to fit stoves and is ambitious to take over an area of his own once he is fully qualified. He said: “I like to be active so having a job that isn’t desk-bound is important to me, and I like the variety and meeting new people.

“Working with Neil, with the support from the apprenticeship team at Eastleigh College, provides one-to-one coaching and has enabled me to get new skills. I like being trusted with more responsibility, and it’s good to know I am working towards a qualification.

“I was amazed that I have made it this far in the Apprenticeship Awards – I feel a bit overwhelmed, but it’s a great achievement.”

Ben is a member of several local dig clubs, including Winchester Archaeology and Local History Group. He added: “I enjoyed the TV programme Time Team and always fancied myself as an archaeologist. When working in older properties I am particularly interested in the history of the chimneys and flues and enjoy the extra challenges these sometimes bring when carrying out cleaning and maintenance.”

Ben’s parents were unsure about how he could forge a career pathway prior to the opportunity of doing a supported apprenticeship. His father, Kevin Cornmell, explains: “Ben is very bright and has a lot of interests, but struggled in various ways due to his autism and anxiety. He has worked so hard – not only learning to deal with the many obstacles presented by his autism, but thriving, gaining confidence and becoming ambitious about his future.”

Eastleigh College’s Lead Job Coach, Liz Wright, said: “We are so proud of Ben who has worked hard and thoroughly deserves this recognition. Eastleigh College has provided training for apprentices for almost 15 years, and recognised that there was a gap in the market people who would thrive in this learning environment, but would need dedicated support. We were the first college in the UK to introduce supported apprenticeships last year, and the employers and learners who have signed up are all reaping benefits.”

Ben’s Apprenticeship Assessor and Mentor, Erin Cornwell, added: “Ben’s progress and achievements have been outstanding. He has gained superb technical knowledge and ability but his biggest progress has been his communication and interaction with customers, and pushing himself out of his comfort zone. He’s an absolute legend, and I didn’t hesitate in nominating him for the National Apprenticeship Awards.

“His progress is a shining example of how supported apprentices excel when they, their employer and training provider work seamlessly together. By working closely with Ben, his parents and his employer, we have provided a solid network of support which has helped him to exceed expectation not just with starting his career, but also in becoming an ambassador for supported apprenticeships.”

Ben added: “I enjoy informing and encouraging others with learning difficulties to undertake a supported apprenticeship. I have spoken at Eastleigh College open events passing on information about the opportunities available.”

Apprenticeships can start any time of the year and are available within a range of careers at various levels including Intermediate, Advanced, Higher and Degree.

Find out more information regarding apprenticeships at Eastleigh College here, or contact 023 8091 1195 or email