Meet Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards 2021 Apprentice of the Year Emilia Reyes Pabon

The Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards recognised the best talent in the county with a special live streamed event on Thursday 6th May 2021.

The Apprentice of the Year Award was won jointly by Emilia Reyes Pabon, a Technician Scientist Apprentice at the Clinical BioManufacturing Facility (CBF), part of the University of Oxford's Jenner Institute and George James, an Apprentice Sports Coach with Ignite Sport UK.

In addition to being an outstanding Apprentice and role model for young women in science, Emilia was recognised for her role as a key member of the team that successfully produced the UK's first ever COVID-19 vaccine for clinical trials in Oxford, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, which is now owned by AstraZeneca and licensed by the MHRA for use in the UK.

Emilia has a hands-on role, helping to manufacture vaccines (including cell and virus culture and virus purification), developing her technical skills and providing ancillary support.

During the challenge to produce this vaccine in record-breaking time, Emilia helped ensure the team’s success by making sure they had sufficient supplies of everything they needed and that the cleanrooms used for vaccine production were clean, monitored and maintained at all times. As she demonstrated such a high level of competency, Emilia was tasked with investigating a method for determining the precise volume of vaccine that can be available for administration to volunteers in the clinic. To enable this, Emilia collaborated with University clinicians by visiting the clinic in order to understand their process and to determine what is required to develop a new method. This new method developed by Emilia has now been finalised and will not only improve compliance but will assist the clinicians administering vaccines to ensure the vaccine volume is sufficient and to prevent wastage.

Having completed a Level 3 Laboratory Technician Apprenticeship with distinction in 2020, Emilia has now started working towards a Level 5 Technician Scientist Apprenticeship. The Higher Apprenticeship will enable Emillia to be able to perform more hands-on manufacturing steps, like rest of her team. Emilia has received training on many hands-on production activities, such as how to make buffers and filter them to ensure they are low bioburden. She has also been involved in updating some of the current systems, by updating multiple documents and creating new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) as required.

Emilia also won the Advanced Apprentice of the Year Award, which was sponsored by Nielsen and judged by HR Assistant Erin Fullarton and HR Advisor Juliet Butler.

Erin said: "When speaking to Emilia it was evident that she felt passion and excitement towards her recently completed Level 3 apprenticeship as well as her current Level 5 role. After going through what has been one of the toughest years that most people have experienced it was a delight to hear about the work that Emilia has been involved with to help with the manufacturing of the COVID-19 vaccine. As well as discussing this amazing achievement, Emilia discussed many other important projects she’d been involved with around minimising waste and maximising the efficiency of their many resources. Overall, we felt Emilia was a truly deserving winner of the Advanced Apprentice Award and we hope this provides some representation of the amazing work that she has been involved with throughout her Apprenticeship. Congratulations Emilia!"

Emilia was chosen as the joint overall Apprentice of the Year by headline sponsor High Spec Composites, with support from the Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards committee. Emilia received a beautiful bespoke carbon fibre trophy, designed and hand crafted at High Spec Composites.

Sarah and Matt Jaycock, Directors at High Spec Composites said: “To have an Apprentice helping to successfully produce the UK’s first ever COVID-19 vaccine like Emilia is incredible in itself. What’s even more impressive is that on top of her huge achievements in her daily role, Emilia has also found time to work with Apprenticeship Ambassadors, attend careers fairs and promote Apprenticeships as an alternative pathway into a career in science.”

Emilia said: “It was a fantastic experience to be part of the awards this year and it was great to be recognised and win the Advanced Apprentice and the Overall Apprentice of the Year awards. I'm grateful to OxLEP for organising the event, to NielsenIQ for taking the time to interview me and choosing me as the winner and to all the sponsor companies that could make the event possible. It is an honour to be the winner and to be recognised for the work that I do at the Clinical BioManufacturing Facility and as an Apprentice Ambassador for the University of Oxford. I'm looking forward to progressing into my Apprenticeship and to keep promoting Apprenticeships!”

See our article for details of all the winning and highly commended entrants.