MORE than 100 people aged 20 to 61 have become the first graduates of an apprenticeship for retail team leaders run by Hampshire-based DIY giant B&Q.

A ceremony was held for the 123 who had completed the 18-month, store-based level three course.

More than 600 other staff are due to complete apprenticeships with the Chandlers Ford-based retailer by the end of this year.

Ollie Ollerton, former Special Forces operative with the SAS and SBS, known for the Channel 4 series SAS Who Dares Wins, was guest speaker.

B&Q chief executive Graham Bell, retail director Paul Crisp and people director Andy Moat co-hosted the event at the Manufacturing and Technology Centre in Coventry.

B&Q says its apprenticeship is one of the most age-diverse in the country. The apprenticeship aims to give staff the skills, knowledge and confidence to be successful in their roles and to equip them with essential life skills.

Paul Crisp, retail director at B&Q, said: “We’re delighted to see our first wave of B&Q apprentices graduate and applaud them for all of their hard work and dedication throughout the duration of the course.

“Our colleagues are the beating heart of B&Q, and we‘re committed to their growth and development as part of our commitment to make B&Q a great place to work. That’s why we’ve expanded the range of apprenticeships we offer, and by May 2020, we’re aiming to have 1,100 colleague apprentices in the business. It’s a fantastic opportunity for people from all walks of life to enjoy a career with us in a sector they’re passionate about.”

Aimee Edwards, winner of the B&Q apprenticeship ambassador award, said: “It’s a proud event for all the apprentices graduating, and I’m thrilled to have been a part of the first wave at B&Q. Winning the B&Q apprenticeship ambassador award is a bonus.

“Throughout the course, I’ve learned invaluable skills and thoroughly enjoyed being able to put everything I’ve learned into practice, both during my time as an apprentice and in my new role as I develop my career following my recent promotion to a management position.”

B&Q, which was founded in Southampton in 1969, says there are links between learning, engaged staff and productivity. It says stores where staff are committed to learning are some of the best-performing.

This week is National Apprenticeship Week, which seeks to celebrate the impact of apprenticeships on employers, individuals and the economy.