North manufacturers must follow in the footsteps of Sir Alan Sugar and hire more apprentices if they are to have long-term success, an industry leader has warned.
Niels Vinther, president of manufacturers and engineers organisation EEF Northern, said companies have to start taking on and training young people in larger numbers to address the growing skills gap in the region.
But Mr Vinther, who is also managing director of Sunderland-based pump maker Grundfos Group, has also cautioned against the growing practice of poaching talented apprentices once they are trained rather than all companies in the sector investing in training.
He said: "Apprenticeships are an investment in the future lives of young people and of business. Apprentices enter a scheme from which they enhance and build their skills for the rest of their working career - and they will be able to sell their skills to the highest bidder.
"Young people are starting their early days with a relatively empty 'tool box' but, with training and experience, they soon enhance their skills. At the end of a four-year apprenticeship, a young person can expect to have achieved a high practical competence level and an HNC in engineering."
Grundfos operates with between 10 and 12 apprentices on site at any one time and employs up to three a year.
Mr Vinther said that as well as companies making a greater effort to train young people, careers advisers and parents should also encourage young people to consider engineering or manufacturing as a career.
He said: "A career in manufacturing and engineering is not mentioned to the vast majority of school leavers, not promoted as an interesting and challenging kind of career. I find that very disappointing and it's a huge mistake that these careers are not promoted more vigorously."
The Government and the industry itself should also do more to back the modern apprenticeship scheme and recognise the benefits, Mr Vinther added.