More than 20 business and education leaders gathered in Preston yesterday to hear how they can nominate apprentices, employers and learners from across the county for the prestigious Learning and Skills Council's (LSC) North West Learner Awards.

Kate McGregor, who plays Emily Kirk in ITV's Emmerdale, launched the Lancashire round of the awards at the city's Guild Hall.

Kate said: "Stretching yourself and learning new skills can be very daunting, and a good mentor is hugely important.

"I'm sure there will be many outstanding candidates for these awards, and just being nominated can bring so many benefits.

"It's important to remember how hard it is to learn, and if people get something right then we should reward them for it.

"Events such as these are vital in providing benchmarks to aim for, and I commend the work of the LSC in staging these awards."

Dave Cresswell, partnership director, LSC Lancashire, said: "These awards are critical in highlighting the hard work of our young learners, the quality of the training provision you deliver, and the important part played by employers.

"They are a fantastic opportunity to applaud apprentices who are taking their future in their hands, and also employers who are taking control of the future of their business by investing in the skills of their workforce.

"Training and skills development are very rewarding in themselves but in many cases that achievement represents considerable sacrifice and resilience in adversity.

"These awards are an opportunity to celebrate achievement, both for the individual and others involved and to raise awareness and offer inspiration to others."

Employers, learning providers and apprentices from across Lancashire are being urged to nominate individuals and companies for the six award categories, which are Apprentice of the Year, Young Apprentice of the Year, Personal Achiever of the Year, Employer of the Year, Further Education Vocational Learner of the Year and Further Education Academic Learner of the Year.

The awards cover the North West LSC's five sub-regions - Cheshire and Warrington, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Greater Merseyside and Lancashire.

Each of the sub-regions will host their own round of the awards, which recognise and reward excellence in learning, skills and achievement in individuals and organisations in their area. They also develop links between local businesses and learning providers.

The North West Learner Awards are held in conjunction with the LSC National Apprenticeship Awards.

Now in their fifth year, the National Apprenticeship Awards recognise and reward both employers and apprentices who are successfully using Apprenticeships.

This could be to improve their business performance and tackle skills shortages; where a contribution to the workplace has exceeded employers' expectations and resulted in measurable benefits; or for individuals who have overcome difficulties to succeed through their Apprenticeship.

The quality of entries to the National Apprenticeship Awards, from both employers and apprentices, has been outstanding, with over 1,100 entries received in 2007 alone.

The winners in each of the categories from the sub-regions of the North West Regional Awards will go on to compete for the North West Regional Award in their category and could then be short listed for the National Apprenticeship Awards final, which will be held at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London on Thursday July 10, 2008.

To enter the awards or make a nomination e-mail or click the link below.