Neil Cain

Apprentice Champion Award For Former Houghall Student

A former East Durham College Houghall campus student has picked up a major Apprenticeship award this week.

51-year old, Neil Cain, who now lives in Kimpton, Hertfordshire and works as operations director for ground maintenance company John O’Conner, studied at the college 36 years ago, has received the Apprenticeship Champion of the Year award for 2015 at the Apprenticeship awards held at London’s Grosvenor House on Tuesday 26th January.

Neil started his career in the horticulture industry in 1980 when he studied on a City and Guilds Horticultural Apprenticeship scheme, working for Sunderland’s Council department and studying at the college’s Houghall campus in Durham.

He then went on to study at Sunderland University whilst working as a foreman at a park in Houghton-le-Spring.

Neil then returned to Houghall for a second time to complete a level 5 horticultural supervisory management course, which got him promoted to park superintendent at the age of just 23.

Speaking about his time at Houghall, Neil said: “It was fantastic to be selected to go on to my initial Apprenticeship at Houghall.

“Most of the 10 people who were selected to take that Apprenticeship route with me at Houghall have gone on to take up management roles in the horticulture industry, which is great to see.

“The course was a good mix of classroom study in the morning and practical on the afternoon.

“The teachers were very hard with us, very experienced horticulturalists, in fact fantastic horticulturalists, but because they were from the older generation back then and they were very, very strict.”

Neil then looked for opportunities away from the parks department which then led him into the private sector.

He moved to London to continue his career, working for park management company SM Brophy, then moving on to Fountains Forestry and finally joining John O’Conner in 2008.

During his time at John O’Conner, Neil has been one of the main masterminds behind launching the company’s successful apprenticeship programmes, offering hundreds of apprenticeships since the scheme was launched in 2010.

Neil has a great passion for promoting apprenticeships, as he has seen himself first-hand how successful this education route can be, now he can’t wait to see the programme grow John O’Conner.

Neil added: “I think it’s fair to say we’ve offered hundreds of work experience placements, traineeships and Apprenticeships since we launched the initiative in 2010.

“In the future the focus on Apprenticeships will continue, because as we promote a supervisor to manager, we’ll need a foreman for a supervisor and we’ll need a craftsmen for a foreman.”

For more information on the Apprenticeships we have available at East Durham College you can contact our apprenticeships team on 0191 518 8259.

And for more information on courses in horticulture at East Durham College you can contact our student services team on 0191 375 4710.