Apprenticeships are a great way of upskilling the UK’s engineering industry – a sector that’s vital to the fortunes of the economy. Here, one of the North East region’s most influential business leaders, Geoff Ford MBE, chairman of Ford Engineering, tells us why apprenticeships are so important to his thriving company, the engineering sector and North East industry in general.

The North East of England is a hotbed of manufacturing excellence. Home to Ford Engineering, Nissan, Siemens, Hitachi, 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. The key element of the programme is making the trainees 'work ready' by ensuring that they fully understand what employers are looking for from their young recruits. 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. Teachers and lecturers 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. The Government needs to worry more about the quality of training provision then setting arbitrary apprenticeship targets that seem to be plucked out of thin air. 

Despite all of this, the North East of England 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 the local area. We’re providing local jobs for local people and that makes me really proud. 

Our partnership with Gateshead College has been instrumental to the success of the scheme. As a like-minded organisation, they really understand the needs of our business and the wider engineering sector and were willing to work responsively to make a difference. Schemes like this will help to protect the future of the industry, boost the economy and prepare more young people for the world of work.

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.  

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