A respected North East business boss has attacked the Government for "doing absolutely nothing" to support apprenticeships.
Geoff Ford, who recently launched an academy for engineers at his firm’s factory at Tyne Dock, South Shields, said he was fed up with waiting for state funding in order to get his training facility up and running.
As well as building up his family firm, the Ford Group, into a multi-million-pound turnover concern, Mr Ford has often tried to give something back to help other North East businesses. But he says the coalition Government has so far fallen short of fulfilling its promise to re-balance the UK economy through manufacturing.
Mr Ford said: “The reason we set up this academy at our own cost was because I would have died of old age waiting for this Government to help us.
“We have to make things happen. We’re facing a skills crisis and thousands of highly-skilled workers are due to retire in the next five years.
“But the Government keeps contradicting itself. It talks up apprenticeships in public but, in the same breath, expects young people to stay in full-time education until they’re 17.
“The previous Government brought in engineering diplomas which were equivalent to five GCSEs. This Government has reduced the value of the diploma from five GCSEs to one.”
At Ford’s training academy, youngsters are taught by South Tyneside College lecturers and given a six-week work experience placement with a North East engineering firm.
After the initial six-month programme is completed, it is anticipated that trainees will be offered full apprenticeships, be given interviews for any job vacancies, or continue on to a Level 3 college apprenticeship course.
A second cache of trainees are expected to start early next year.
A further crisis facing the North East is not just a skills shortage, but a shortage of workers willing to stay in the region, says Mr Ford.
He said: “I often hear capable people saying to get a good job you have to leave the North East. I find that very depressing.
“George Osborne said that he wanted to start a ‘march of the makers’ in last year’s budget, wooing metal bashers and car makers, but where is the evidence of that?
“The North East needs a unified voice. We no longer have a Regional Development Agency or a minister for the North East. At best we have a whisper.”
Mr Ford has called on manufacturing firms across the region to pledge their support to The Journal’s Proud to Back Apprenticeships campaign to help create a new generation of skilled workers.
He said: “There are a significant number of engineering companies who do not intend to take on an apprentice and we need to reverse that.”