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Young workers at SW Durham Training, in Newton Aycliffe, praise apprenticeship scheme
THE Government yesterday handed more power to companies to design their own apprenticeships and ease the skills shortage. Deputy Business Editor Steven Hugill visited a North-East training provider to find out how young workers are shaping the region's manufacturing and engineering industry.
IT is quite a sobering statistic.
By 2016, is it estimated the North-East manufacturing sector will lose about 8,500 skilled workers through retirement, with no guarantees their positions will be filled.
Companies are desperate to plug this predicted void, and the drive to increase apprenticeships has never been so great.
SW Durham Training (SWDT), on Aycliffe Business Park, in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, is playing an important part in this push.
The 46-year-old training provider takes on about 200 apprentices a year, who will eventually move onto companies across the North-East.
After changing into a boiler suit and protective goggles, I'm taken on a tour of SWDT by Michael Blades, its business development manager, to see how it specialises in engineering and manufacturing courses and covers electrical and mechanical maintenance, fabrication and welding.
SWDT takes on apprentices over three clusters, in September, January and March, and during my visit I meet a group of teenagers already employed by North-East firms in its milling and turning department, who are on extra training courses at the request of their bosses.
My trip coincides with the Government's decision to give greater power to companies to shape apprenticeships following a review from former Dragons' Den electronics entrepreneur, Doug Richard, who identified the need for apprentices to be tailored to employers' needs.
But the mood on the shopfloor at SWDT is clear; the apprentice scheme is working and doing so very well.
Nathan Avery, 19, works for Tacle Seating, which makes seats for Nissan Qashqai vehicles at the company's Sunderland plant.
He said: “Getting an apprenticeship is so much better than going to college or university where you are not even guaranteed to get a job at the end.
“But here, I've got an opportunity to learn new skills, earn some money and work towards a full-time job that will help me in the future.”
Anthony Butler, from Stockton, is employed by electronics firm, RFMD, based in Newton Aycliffe, which makes semi-conductors for mobile phones.
The 19-year-old said: “The help and support we get as apprentices is brilliant.
"You always get told you can't get a job without having experience but being at RFMD and coming here means I am getting that.”
In response to Mr Richard's report, the Government says it will change its parameters on apprentices, with employers putting recognised industry standards into every apprenticeship, targeting every young worker for a skilled job, and ensuring apprentices work towards qualifications in English and maths from August 2014.
Mr Blades admits the North-East needs a constant stream of new apprentices, who he says are vital in helping the region maintain its position across industry sectors.
He said: “There are 8,500 skilled workers due to retire by 2016, and there will be a shortage unless North-East companies look at apprentices to plug those gaps.
“If the region is to remain ahead in terms of engineering and manufacturing, where it is world-class, this must be addressed.
“The facts are there, when an apprentice starts with a company there are lots of benefits, they align themselves with the industry and gain the skills demanded by companies.”
“They bring loyalty and job satisfaction and companies need to look at apprentices as part of of their success.”