A PASSIONATE advocate for improving opportunities for young people has been awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List.

Elaine Billington, 53, from Holmes Chapel, was chairman of the North West Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network, which encourages employers to take part in apprenticeships.

She was awarded the MBE for services to apprenticeships and young people in the north west.

Elaine attended Holmes Chapel Comprehensive School before studying at the University of Salford, and worked in HR for more than 25 years before joining Highways England recently as HR director.

She said: “I have spent most of my career championing apprenticeships as a fantastic alternative to university for young people – ‘earn while you learn’.

“I recently joined Highways England as HR director, but have been working in HR for over 25 years, including a significant time at United Utilities, where I had the opportunity to work with a fantastic team who were highly supportive of apprenticeships.

Knutsford Guardian:

Elaine welcomes new apprentices to United Utilities

“I have always been passionate about apprenticeships, and enjoyed spending time promoting them to both young people and employers.

“I was really chuffed to win the MBE, and slightly embarrassed. I enjoy spending time with my family, especially my daughter and our crazy beagle called Lottie.”

For eight years Elaine chaired the North West AAN (Employer Apprentice Ambassador Network), a group whose aim is to encourage employers to engage in apprenticeships.

She said: “It is a voluntary role which involved me spending time in schools, colleges and with local employers explaining the value of apprenticeships.

“I am also a founder member of the Apprentice Diversity Champion Network.

“Chaired by MP Helen Grant, it is a network used to encourage more people from under-represented groups, including those with disabilities, women and members of the black, Asian and ethnic minority communities, to consider apprenticeships.”

Elaine worked for United Utilities from 2002 to September 2019. She was instrumental in restarting its apprenticeship programme, championing the development of high quality and diverse apprenticeships with UU, presenting at apprentice induction days and welcoming hundreds of apprentices to UU.

She led United Utilities’ diversity and inclusion work, encouraging business areas to change traditional approaches and to recruit a more diverse workforce.

This resulted in United Utilities becoming one of the first employers to join the National Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network in 2017.

As chairman of the North West Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network she developed the network into one of the largest and most proactive in the country.