A HAMPSHIRE business sailed to victory at a prestigious awards ceremony.

Berthon Boat Company won the Best SME Investment in Skills prize at the Semta Skills Awards.

Based in Bath Road, Lymington, the firm was honoured for leading an apprenticeship programme that brought 60 extra apprentices into the marine industry.

Managing director Brian May said: “Since 2008 we have either employed ourselves or paid for the first year wages for over 100 apprentices in 35 separate marine small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

“We are doing that because we understood there was very little encouragement for apprentices in the first place.

“SMEs have had so many bad experiences, where apprenticeships have not been encouraged properly, that they are loath to take them on.

“The first year is very cash negative for the higher level apprenticeships so we have devised a scheme which has a 97 per cent graduate success rate, whereby we encourage SMEs in our sector to take on an apprentice and we’ll pay for their first year wages.”

The award acknowledges investment in skills by a small to medium enterprise employing less than 250 people.

Berthon Boat Company has 150 employees, including 30 apprentices and six graduates.

Judges, led by category sponsors Pera Training, looked for applicants able to demonstrate how investment in skills has brought benefits to people and businesses alike.

Ann Watson, Semta’s chief operating officer said: “Berthon Boat Company richly deserves this award – not least for working with their competitors to invest in skills to benefit the marine sector as a whole.

“It is exactly the sort of partnerships which will engineer skills for future generations and ensure the UK remains a key player in the UK economy.”