Hitachi Rail Europe says it hasn’t struggled to recruit skilled people at its new train assembling factory – thanks to the support of local training providers. The company opened in September 2015, and has already taken on more than 1,000 people at its £82m site on Aycliffe Business Park. Fiftyseven of those have been new apprenticeship roles, with 10 being trained by South West Durham Training (SWDT) who has worked closely with Hitachi for the last three years. Hitachi’s Learning and Development Manager Kendra Stonehouse said: “Our relationship with SWDT hasn’t just been around apprenticeships, as all of our core team have done their training there”. Kendra, who joined Hitachi from Tata Steel in April 2015, attended an event at SWDT to talk to local businesses about the benefits of taking on apprentices, using the new apprenticeship levy system.

She said: “As a large employer we do pay into the apprenticeship levy pot and we’re trying to be more creative in how that will work for the business. We’re trying to bring more young people in, but as integral parts of the team we already have in place. We have a lot of skilled and semiskilled people who have joined the company and this is about giving them opportunities to develop, as well as recruiting apprentices. Of the 1,000 people Hitachi Rail  employed  the majority come within a 30-mile radius of its Aycliffe site. SWDT is now delivering bespoke apprenticeship packages to accommodate the needs of businesses, and says changes to the way apprenticeships are funded, and the apprenticeship levy, have created new opportunities to deliver a variety of programmes involving a range of different modules.

The Aycliffe training provider – which celebrates its 50th year later this year – is now working with the likes of neighbouring train manufacturer Hitachi Rail and lawnmower maker Husqvarna, Richmond-based Pipeline Engineering, which is part of the multi-national Circor Group, and Aycliffebased rail component maker Sabre Rail. Chief executive Lee Childs, said: “The levy gives us more flexibility to get the most out of the funding available. There are gaps in apprenticeships that we’ve recognised, such as quality engineering. “But we’re also training apprentices in engineering with modules in purchasing, procurement, quality assurance and business improvement techniques, for example. SWDT, a subsidiary of Bishop Auckland College which employs 27 staff, also works with 3M, Cummins, Nifco, GSK, Mech Tool Engineering and Ebac among others, and has more than 300 learners on its books. Find out more about SWDT at or call 01325 313194.