The Tees Valley has a new champion modern apprentice to encourage youngers to stick to the trades. But as Ian Lamming finds out, he does not expect people to follow in all of his footsteps.

IF Ben Alderson looks like he has been through a hedge backwards it's because he has - and through a wall, before cart wheeling up a tree. The scars on his scalp are testament to the horrific car accident that almost cost him his life.

He remembers little about the crash, near Darlington, on July 25, 2001, but has been told that he swerved to avoid a bike, before spinning out of control in his pride and joy, an Audi S2 Coupe.

In fact, the 20-year-old has been told a lot since then, including the fact that his head injuries were so severe he was not expected to survive, that even ten days later, a blood clot on his brain stem was expected to claim his life, that when he did pull through he would have to walk with sticks.

"They didn't give me much chance of survival," said Ben, of Bolam, near Darlington. "But exactly a month after the crash, I walked out of hospital, went back to college and got distinctions in my exams."

Ben has been selected by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) to be a champion modern apprentice, after being nominated by Darlington College of Technology, where he is taking his City and Guilds in welding and fabrication.

"The accident happened in the middle of my course and I had to take the year again," said Ben, who works for Hathaway Roofing, in Tindale Crescent, Bishop Auckland. "But I always wanted to work in engineering so need to have the qualifications. I have been into cars all my life. I love motorsport and have always wanted to be in a pit crew of a Formula One Team."

Having a brush with death has made him more determined than ever to succeed. "It has altered my view of life. I take it a day at a time and enjoy it a lot more," he said.

This new-found appreciation is also helping him motivate young people in the Tees Valley. As a champion modern apprentice he attends presentations to encourage young people to take up a trade.

Darlington College's engineering and computing programme manager, Steve Richardson, said: "The LSC asked us to nominate candidates to talk about what it is like to be a modern apprentice. Ben came back to college after making a remarkable recovery from his injuries so he seemed the obvious choice."

Ben said: "I just sit down and talk to them about why I feel it is worth sticking at it and not just packing it in. I am also there to help them find the best way to do things because I have done them myself."

Though the one thing he does not recommend, is going through a hedge backwards in a car.