Bridgend College is delighted to announce that two of its former learners have been shortlisted for the 2015 VQ Learner of the Year.

Organised by the Welsh Government’s Department for Education and Skills (DfES), the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW) and CollegesWales, the VQ Awards help to showcase individuals and organisations that have raised the standard of the services they offer as a result of vocational qualifications.

Our 2 learners have both won a place in the final of this year’s prestigious VQ (Vocational Qualification) Awards in Wales. They are two of six finalists in the running to become VQ Learner of the Year at the showpiece awards ceremony on June 9, the eve of VQ Day, at St David’s Hotel, Cardiff.

Michael Whippey’s love of horses began when he started riding at the age of five and has been totally focused on an equestrian career since leaving school.

He obtained a BTEC National Diploma in Horse Management with triple distinctions and a British Horse Society assistant instructor certificate at our Pencoed Campus. The qualifications helped him secure a job at the world famous Talland School of Equitation, near Cirencester where he achieved the BHS intermediate instructor certificate and became yard manager.

After gaining more experience at competition yards in Suffolk, he joined Shardeloes Farm Equestrian Centre, Amersham where he ran the hydrotherapy yard before being promoted to chief instructor in February.

He had to wait until last year, when he turned 22, before he could take the BHS Senior Equitation exam, which he passed first time. He will become one of the youngest qualified instructors in the country if he passes the final BHS Coaching exams this month.

Serena Torrance’s growth and development have been extraordinary. She completed her BTEC Applied Science and Welsh Baccalaureate at Bridgend College with outstanding grades in 2011 and won a coveted place at Cardiff University where she is expected to gain a first class honours degree in Criminology this summer before starting a Masters in September.

Sara said: “Serena stated that coming to college saved her life: after years of being on medication and counselling, she was signed off by her medical teams.  The course gave her a purpose and we are so proud of her.”

Serena continues to support the college as a student ambassador. “She supports our learners with great maturity and knowledge in the field of forensic science,” said Sara. “There is something special about her. I am sure she will be a resounding success.”

Serena said: “Without Bridgend College I don’t know where I’d be. Severe depression cost me almost two years of education and now I’d like to repay the college by one day lecturing there in forensics.”

But more than that, Serena, now aged 23, has been a pillar of strength to fellow students. She has been able to draw on her own background of overcoming psychological challenges to influence a boy who lacked confidence and motivation.

The awards, which are part funded by the European Social Fund, are now in their eighth year and coincide with Vocational Qualifications Day – a UK-wide celebration of vocational qualifications for students, teachers, training providers and employers – which is held on June 10.

The VQ Learner the Year Award recognises learners who clearly demonstrate progression and excellence in vocational studies and have made considerable achievements in their field. Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology, Julie James congratulated Michael and fellow VQ Awards finalists.

“A VQ Award is more than just an award; it’s a symbol of dedication towards your chosen profession,” she said. “Professional and personal development programmes are utilised for staff to enable them to follow a pathway of learning to meet company, customer and individual needs.

“The VQ Awards help us to celebrate those Welsh employers and learners who are already going that extra mile when it comes to developing vocational skills and qualifications.

“If the Welsh economy is to continue to grow then we must ensure that employers, individuals and the Welsh Government work together to invest in the right skills for success in order to equip Wales with a world class work force.”