Apprenticeships drive manufacturing excellence

Published: 9th March 2018

The North East is a hotbed of manufacturing excellence. Home to Nissan, Siemens, Hitachi, our own company, Ford Engineering, and a host of agile smaller businesses, the region is leading the way in making high-value products that are in demand around the globe.

Apprenticeships are a key driver of this notable success story. They have given dozens of companies the opportunity to bring fresh skills into their business – making them much more productive and competitive as a result.

That’s why we teamed up with Gateshead College to run our training academy. Young people get the chance to complete an intensive traineeship that gives them the skills they need to start an apprenticeship, from using milling machines and lathes to producing mechanical engineering drawings using computer aided design (CAD) technology. They also learn about health and safety on the shop floor, how to prepare for engineering tasks and how to make mathematical calculations and draft reports. All of this means they’re fully prepared when they start their apprenticeship.

Naturally, we benefit from our academy as it gives us a ready-made pipeline of talent – but it’s designed to benefit engineering firms all over the region. It’s the only one of its type in the North East and I’m proud that we’re making a positive difference to the fortunes of our manufacturing industry, which is badly in need of an influx of new skills.

Much more needs to be done, though. Businesses and colleges must work with schools to make young people aware of manufacturing and engineering careers. Education providers have to tailor their learning programmes more closely to employers’ needs. As a region, we have to sell ourselves better and tell the world about our manufacturing capabilities. Government needs to worry more about the quality of training provision rather than setting arbitrary apprenticeship targets that seem to be plucked out of thin air.

Despite all of this, the North East has a lot to shout about. On a personal level, it gives me great satisfaction to see local young people ‘graduate’ from our academy and go on to launch successful engineering careers. Of the group of trainees who started last September, two thirds of them are from South Tyneside. We’re providing local jobs for local people and that makes me really proud.

If there’s one regret I have, it’s that we didn’t launch the academy sooner. It’s a great way of giving something back to the local community and helping the region’s manufacturing sector to keep ahead of the game.

To find out more about Gateshead College and the courses on offer, visit