Groundbreaking plans that could see the North East significantly narrowing its industry skills gap look set to become a reality.
North Shields manufacturing company, Chirton Engineering, has been told it is receive a cut from a £48m Government funding package that will help it set up a Machining Academy, aimed at giving apprentices from regional SMEs training far beyond what is currently available.
If all goes to plan, by next September, the facility, supported by Tyne Metropolitan College, will be able to offer not only a standard 18 week engineering course, but an additional 18 weeks of CNC training, meaning apprentices return to the workplace with skills that are already highly advanced.
“It’s been a long, long road, but I’m delighted we’ve got things off the ground,” said Chirton’s managing director Paul Stewart.
“This is going to be groundbreaking and there’s nothing like it anywhere in the country.
“Nobody has the state-of-the-art kit required, but we have people to supply it.”
Set up exactly 10 years ago this week, Chirton - which specialises in precision engineering components, particularly in offshore oil and gas manufacturing - has proved something of a success story.
Last year the company reported turnover of £4.3m and plans are in place to double this - while boosting staff numbers from 49 to 65 - within three years. However, the company has long struggled to find people with the right skills and has had to push hard with its apprenticeship programme. Funding for the academy is coming through the second round of the Government’s Employer Ownership Pilot.
With support from the likes of Semta and North Tyneside Council behind him, Stewart’s job is now to drum up support from SMEs in the region. If successful, the academy would be able to take at least 50 apprentices a year - and could even be rolled out as a model for other sectors.
“A lot of small SMEs feel they can’t afford to take on apprentices, but I believe they will buy into this because within 36 weeks the apprentice they are getting back has all those extra skills,” Stewart said.