When Leon Neilly decided he wanted to change his career path and leave college he wasn’t sure where he would end up next.

He had been working in McDonald’s while studying a Level 3 Engineering course in Neath College but didn’t feel the course was suited to him.

He knew he didn’t want to work in the fast food outlet full time and started thinking about other career options.

When he heard that the Wales Air Ambulance was introducing its first ever Apprenticeship Scheme, he was keen to know more and applied to be a Warehouse Sustainability Operative apprentice.

Leon, aged 18, began his post in February 2022 at Cwmdu Warehouse in Swansea, and as well as learning about various aspects of the Charity, he has worked towards a Waste Management Industry Training and Advisory Board (WAMITAB) Level 2 Diploma in Warehouse Recycling and Sustainability.

The apprenticeship has enabled him to work whilst learning and develop his skills, all whilst earning a salary.

Fast forward 12 months, and Leon, of Carmarthen Road, Swansea, now has become the first Wales Air Ambulance apprentice to pass his qualification, co-inciding with National Apprenticeship Week (February 6 to 12).

Leon said he was delighted to have passed the Level 2 Diploma in Warehouse Recycling and Sustainability and was looking forward to continuing his employment within the Charity.

He said: “I only found on Monday that I had passed, and I am so happy. I worked hard throughout the year, but I really got lucky. As soon as I finished in the college, the Wales Air Ambulance started its first ever apprenticeship scheme. Everything started to fall in to place for me. I am so excited to continue working with the Charity and I am looking forward to the next stage. There are some exciting things to come!”

Leon said his knowledge, confidence and skills have developed throughout the last year thanks to the scheme.

He said: “When I first started, I was unsure how the work here related to the topic of sustainability but now I realise how its intertwined and my knowledge has really grown. Even without doing the apprenticeship, working in the warehouse has given me great experience in the subject.

“The apprenticeship did not involve tests and was very practical. I would work through workbooks and demonstrate the work I did in my job, such as taking pictures of various aspects of sustainability, going to the recycling unit or sorting out various items. It has been very varied, and it didn’t feel as if I was doing an apprenticeship. I just felt like an employee coming to work and getting on with the job.

“The apprenticeship has been great for me and I enjoy working here. I really feel very proud working for the Charity. I would definitely recommend an apprenticeship to anyone.”

As part of the Wales Air Ambulance’s new strategy plan there is a strong focus on youth engagement and sustainability. The apprenticeship programmes reinforces the Charity’s commitment to developing a green agenda and also gives young people the opportunity to gain meaningful employment and a platform to develop.

The Charity has also employed teenager Jack Hancock as an apprentice, who also works in the Cwmdu warehouse. It is hoped that the Wales Air Ambulance can continue to offer further apprenticeship programmes and give apprentices the opportunity to become permanent members of the workforce.

Michelle Morris, Wales Air Ambulance’s Director of People and Organisational Development, said: “Creating employment and development opportunities for younger people is a key priority for the Charity, and we were delighted to have launched our first Sustainability and Recycling apprenticeship programme in 2021.

“Our apprentices gain a valuable industry recognised qualification whilst working and earning a salary, providing them with the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge that are directly relevant to their role and the Charity.

“We have seen the benefits of the apprenticeship programme, our apprentices have grown in confidence, they apply their learning to the workplace, and they have had a positive impact on those around them.

“The apprenticeship programme has helped us to recruit and develop our future talent and we look forward to extending our apprenticeship programmes further.”

The Wales Air Ambulance needs to raise £8 million every year to keep its helicopters in the air and rapid response vehicles on the road. It offers advanced critical care across Wales which is delivered via a unique Third Sector and Public Sector partnership between the Wales Air Ambulance Charity and the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service (EMRTS Cymru). 

As a result, the service is consultant-led and is known as a ‘flying emergency department’, taking hospital-standard treatments to the patient at the scene of an incident. This includes the ability to administer anaesthesia, deliver blood transfusions and conduct minor operations, all at the scene of an incident.

Commenting on Leon’s apprenticeship success, his manager Shaun Gower, Transport and Warehouse Manager, said: “I am very proud of Leon, and he fully deserved to pass his apprenticeship. Since he started a year ago, he has come on tremendously and has always been very driven and focussed.  He’s hardworking, loyal and gets on with any job given to him and has maturity beyond his years.

“We have always had a good working relationship, which as a manager helps makes my life easier, having someone like Leon you can trust and rely on. 

“He is a big character in the warehouse, and he has not gone unnoticed within the Wales Air Ambulance. He has the potential to succeed further in the Charity and I am looking forward to seeing what is next for him.”