BETTER careers advice could hold the key to the growth of the North East’s manufacturing sector, according to one of the region’s leading training providers.

Michael Blades, business development manager at Newton Aycliffe based SW Durham Training (SWDT), a 45-year old company that delivers engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships and training support, believes that the absence of good, up-to-date advice for young people is leaving them ill-equipped to make decisions about whether or not to enter the industry.

He said: “Manufacturing and engineering in the North East are both thriving sectors, and we believe that they could hold the key to the region’s economic prosperity. However, we absolutely have to do all that we can to ensure that this message is reaching young people leaving school.

“When it comes to apprenticeships, school leavers must understand that this is an option that can lead to a long and successful career. This is a message that has to be communicated early on to ensure that by the time people reach the age of 16, they are well informed about their options, and are able to make decisions based on reality rather than perception.

“We rely on schools and indeed parents to ensure that young people are well-informed about the different career paths they can and should take, and we firmly believe that apprenticeships are a fantastic route into business. We absolutely must see better advice for young people, and particularly advice about the manufacturing and engineering sectors, where there is no shortage of well-paid roles, but not enough talent.”

Mr Blades’ comment follows claims by MPs that careers services for young people in England show a ‘worrying deterioration’, after a report from the Education Select Committee that highlights problems with the ‘quality, independence and impartiality’ of current careers advice. There were also concerns about the lack of individual advice available. The National Careers Service, launched last year, offers guidance by website and phone, but it does not provide young people with face-to-face advisers.

Mr Blades added: “As an industry, we face a real challenge, with outdated and inaccurate perceptions of what manufacturing and engineering roles are like. Far from the grey, dirty environments of days gone by, often our young people move into advanced manufacturing roles in clean, high-tech working environments. But often, this message is not being filtered down to young people.

“And of course, in more and more cases, our people are actually entering board rooms and offices after completing their apprenticeship. We teach a blend of academic and theoretical skills – and these are skills that equip people well for business. And we have seen many of our former apprentices go on to have high flying careers.”

SWDT counts Gatwick Airport chief executive Stewart Wingate; Nifco UK managing director Mike Matthews and vice-president of Electrolux Major Appliances Gareth Berry, among its former apprentices. Most famous of SWDT’s former students, perhaps, is comedian Vic Reeves.

Mr Blades added: “It’s an impressive list and we’re really proud of that. To see our students go on to have such success in the industry is a real sign that we have been getting it right, not only on a technical and practical level, but also in respect of the life skills we are teaching them. And that’s something we hope that young people are starting to understand.”

For more information about courses at South West Durham Training Ltd, visit or call 01325 313 194.