Youngsters need to be told value of apprentice training.
A business leader from the North East has said schoolchildren need to be better informed from a young age to aid them in choosing a vocational path.
When Andrew Esson, managing director of North Shields-based Quick Hydraulics, took over the business in 2011 he sought about assessing the way in which he sought new staff.
Identifying a worrying lack of skilled manufacturing engineers, he set about changing Quick Hydraulics' approach to staffing.
He said: "When I bought the business I found it was difficult to recruit hydraulic engineers.
"We have a 32-year-old engineer who was the last remaining apprentice who joined 16 years before and there had only been one apprentice after that who has left.
"Taking the long-term view, everyone recognises there is a shortage of engineering skills so we have to take control of our own destiny and grow our own talent."
But he also discovered what he described as a lost generation of children who are unable to enter engineering sector apprenticeships because they don't have the relevant qualifications.
He said: "At the moment we have a lost generation of kids who are now no longer kids who have gone through the education system and done qualifications that are unsuitable for engineering and are pushing them towards a service-based economy.
"Now we have got the second last generation coming up to retirement age so we have got a bit of a perfect storm on skills. We have generations of kids who haven't come into engineering and all these companies trying to expand.
"There's not a lot we can do about the lost generation but we can about future generations."
Mr Esson believes youngsters need to be given guidance and advice at a young age about the exciting career prospects that could be available to young people who go down the route of an apprenticeship. This, he says, will allow them to make choices about subjects at an early enough stage that will give them the option of certain engineering apprenticeships down the line.
"I was talking to some schoolchildren at an event recently who said the quality of careers advice is very poor and it also comes too late; they don't have enough information to make informed choices," Mr Esson explained.
"Our challenge in terms of apprenticeships is we need to make sure more young people are aware - before they even choose what they want to be - of the opportunities in manufacturing engineering."
In the last 12 months Quick Hydraulics has brought in four new apprentices.
Mr Esson, who is heavily involved in a number of skills bodies, is proud of this and he hopes other small businesses will follow the same path towards offering more apprenticeships.
Recent research has shown that more than 8,500 skilled people across the North East will be retiring from the engineering sector before 2016, which in turn will pose a considerable threat to industrial wellbeing.
There are many organisations both locally and nationally - including Semta and the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) - that offer support, advice and even funding to businesses who are keen to offer apprenticeships.
Jonathan Walker, from NECC, said: "We have long recognised the need for the North East to invest in skills through apprenticeships, and while many businesses have taken up this challenge there is much more to do if we are to achieve our economic potential as a region.
"The manufacturing and engineering sector is just one example of the need to support training for young people to address immediate skills needs.
"Issues such as an ageing workforce, a general shortage of technical skills and international competition will all come to a head in the near future and so it is vital that firms invest now in equipping young people with right skills through apprenticeships."
We have generations of kids who haven't come into engineering and all these companies trying to expand
MORE TO DO Jonathan Walker of the North East Chamber of Commerce
ADVICE CALL Andrew Esson, also below, managing director of Quick Hydraulics on New York Industrial Park
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|Publication:||The Journal (Newcastle, England)|
|Date:||Mar 28, 2013|
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