A leading figure in the work-based learning sector in Wales has spoken about the “awe-inspiring” experience of receiving an OBE from Prince William at Buckingham Palace earlier this month.
Arwyn Watkins, managing director of Cambrian Training Company based in Welshpool, described the ceremony as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” which he’ll never forget.
“You are made to feel really special and you meet some incredible people which makes you question why you are there,” said Mr Watkins, who was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours list for his services to education and training in Wales.
“Recipients from all corners of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth were recognised for a range of achievements, from education, environmental, mountain rescue, cycling and nursing, including services to mental health. It was a brilliant day that just flew by.”
During his brief conversation with Mr Watkins, the Duke of Cambridge spoke about the Cambrian Mountains in the Heart of Wales, how much he had enjoyed being based in Wales as a Search and Rescue helicopter pilot and the importance of apprenticeships.
Mr Watkins was joined at the ceremony by his wife, Vicky and sons, Cai and Zac. From Buckingham Palace, they travelled to the House of Lords for lunch with his mentor Lord Ted Rowlands, former president of the National Training Federation for Wales.
Mr Watkins said the OBE recognised the important contribution that the independent training sector made to the daily lives of people living and working in Wales. He thanked Cambrian Training Company and his family for their full support.
He joined Cambrian Training Company nearly 20 years ago and is a former chairman and chief executive of the National Training Federation for Wales where he worked in partnership with Welsh Government and the network to shape the successful work-based learning programmes delivered in Wales today.
He is a board member of the Regional Learning and Skills Partnership for West and Mid Wales, a trustee of the British Food Trust, president of the Culinary Association of Wales and a member of the WorldChefs’ Feed the Planet and Sustainability Committee.
A farmer’s son from Llanwrtyd Wells, he left Builth Wells High School to join the Army as an apprentice chef and has maintained his commitment to apprenticeship programmes ever since.
On leaving the Army, he joined the Merchant Navy, working for Stena Line and became a catering college lecturer in Kent before returning to Mid Wales to join Cambrian Training Company in 1998.
The company has enjoyed considerable growth under his leadership, winning the Apprenticeship Provider of the Year at the 2007 and 2012 Apprenticeship Awards Cymru together with a series of other accolades. The company now employs more than 120 staff and sub-contractors.
Culinary skills are one of his main passions and he coached the Junior Welsh Culinary Team to a Culinary Olympics gold medal in 2004. As a member of the Applied Ability Awards National Committee, he was instrumental in running pilot programmes in Wales leading to ground-breaking craft-led Apprenticeship Frameworks for chefs.
Earlier this year, he headed up a team that attracted the WorldChefs’ European conference to the Celtic Manor Resort, Newport. He is now involved in a team bidding to host the WorldChefs Congress at the Wales International Convention Centre at the Celtic Manor Resort in 2024.
Away from work, Mr Watkins has made his home in Llanfair Caereinion and is president of his local rugby club, Cobra RFC.