A SharpFutures apprentice has been named Apprentice of the Year at a national awards ceremony recognising contributions to the UK’s cultural sector by individuals and organisations.

Sophie Hukin, 22 from Failsworth, was one of two apprentices who fought off stiff competition from a record number of entries across the country to receive a trophy at the seventh annual Creative & Cultural Skills Awards.

The awards are organised by Creative & Cultural Skills, an independent UK charity giving young people opportunities to work and learn in the creative industries, and are designed to shine a light on the individuals and organisations that have demonstrated outstanding commitment to skills development and learning in the sector.

Ms Hukin was given the award for her work at SharpFutures, a social enterprise that supports diverse young people into employment in the creative digital and tech sectors

Ms Hukin has helped SharpFutures close the social mobility gap for young people who want to break into the creative digital and tech sectors but have no work experience and minimal connections. Her achievements include promoting ways for young people to access employment in the sector and advising students on pathways to long-term work.

Sophie Hukin also used the skills she gained through her apprenticeship to organise voluntary event support by co-ordinating 80 choirs of more than 3,000 performers as part of ‘Manchester Together as One Voice’, an event that commemorated the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena attack.

The judges felt that Ms Hukin was a leader in the making, showing commitment, ambition and an exemplary approach to being an apprentice.

The award was presented by Jeremy Lascelles, group chief executive of Blue Raincoat Music and former Virgin chief executive. Speaking after her win, Sophie Hukin said: “My apprenticeships at SharpFutures opened the door to a career in a sector I love. I enjoyed every moment of my time as an apprentice so to get this award is just the icing on the cake.

“My apprenticeships have enabled me to do a job where I am now able to advise other young people on the additional training or skills they need to get them where they want to be in their career. It’s been hugely rewarding and I’d recommend an apprenticeship to anyone.”

The title of Apprentice of the Year was awarded to two winners this year. The other recipient of the award was Fionnuala Cush from Northern Ireland for her role at Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich – the Irish language, arts and cultural centre in West Belfast.

More than 200 people attended this year’s awards and dinner, which were held at the National Museum Cardiff and presented by Angharad Lee, a freelance director of theatre, opera and film, and David Anderson, director general of National Museum Wales. Entertainment was provided by Rubicon Dance, a community dance development organisation for Cardiff and Newport.

The ceremony followed the tenth Creative & Cultural Skills National Conference, which took place on the same day in Cardiff City Hall and featured senior leaders from organisations including the Arts Council of Wales, the Wales Millennium Centre and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The conference explored the barriers to entry into the creative and cultural sector, and what stops people from thriving within it.

Recent research published by Creative & Cultural Skills reveals that there were 86,310 people working in the creative industry in the North West of England in 2018, with 28% of these aged between 16-29 years old, in sectors as diverse as literature (32%), performing arts (21%), visual arts (13%), cultural heritage (12%), design (9%), music (7%) and craft (6%).

Simon Dancey, chief executive of Creative & Cultural Skills, said: “To be a part of this inspirational event, surrounded by individuals and organisations working passionately to shift the persisting inequalities in the UK’s cultural sector, has been a privilege.

“Our awards are about celebrating people who demonstrate the skills, passion and commitment required to make lasting change to the organisations they work for – regardless of their academic background.

“Our winners, and all those nominated, are further evidence of the need for more employers in the cultural sector to shift their recruitment cultures, embrace apprenticeships and improve their workforce diversity. I have no doubt the apprentices, interns and trainees nominated will all have a fantastic career ahead of them in the cultural sector.”