The North East is closing the skills gap on the rest of the country as figures reveal fewer young people not in school, work or training.
Government statistics show that falling numbers of 16 to 24-year-olds across the region are classes as being not in education, employment or training (NEET).
The latest figures from the Department for Education (DfE) show that 16.8% of 16 to 24-year-olds in the North East were NEET in the first quarter of this year, which is 3% lower than it was during the same period a year earlier.
Although the North East has the highest proportion of 16 to 24 year olds in the country in the category, business leaders last night welcomed the progress being made in the region.
Sarah Sillars, who heads up Semta, which represents 128,000 companies in the manufacturing and engineering sector, attributed the fall in figures in part to The Journal’s Proud to Back Apprenticeships campaign.
She said: “This is terrific news for all those passionate about skilling our young people, getting them in to paid employment and helping boost the local economy. There is still much work to be done – and Semta will continue to strive to fill the skills gap.
“We have formed a partnership with one of Britain’s most prestigious papers. The Journal’s momentous efforts to help the people that it serves has played a major role in turning the tide and spreading the word.
“Apprenticeships give young people a chance to earn while they learn and step in to a rewarding career – employers get the skills dividend where their apprentices help meet production targets, fulfil orders and generate much needed income.”
More than three quarters of a million young people in the UK are not in school, work or training, according to the DfE.
In total, 774,000 young people fell into the NEET category in the first three months of 2014; down two percentage points on last year and the lowest rate for this quarter since 2005.
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock said he was delighted with the figures, suggesting they showed that young people are being given the right skills for the job market.
Mr Hancock said: “The figures released show the progress being made to ensure that all young people are equipped with the skills that allow them to begin productive and prosperous careers. I am particularly pleased to see that the proportion of 16- to 18-year-olds who are Neet, is at the lowest level since records began.
“Every young person should be given the chance to reach their potential, whether that is through studying or training, embarking on an apprenticeship or traineeship or entering the world of work.”
But one industry expert argued that too many youngsters are still “slipping through the cracks”.
Chris Jones, chief executive of the City & Guilds Group, said: “It’s great to see fewer people falling into the NEET category, but we can’t rest on our laurels.
“There are still 13.1% of young people in this position, slipping through the cracks. It’s creating a lost generation of talent and I worry about Britain’s economic future because of it.
“We must get better at telling young people about all of the options available to them. Not just university, but apprenticeships and other vocational qualifications too. And to achieve this, we need to give them careers advice that is relevant to the 21st century.”