Developing the skills of young people is vital to ensure long term economic growth and prosperity in the North East.

That was the clear message that emerged from last night’s (Monday’s) County Durham Engineering and Manufacturing Network (CDEMN) dinner at the South Durham University Technical College (UTC) in Newton Aycliffe.

The event, which was sponsored by Sora Group, brought together a 100-strong audience of business people, political figures, education chiefs and students who heard from a number of speakers on the challenges the region faces in addressing the skills gap that currently exists.

As well as investing in young people to equip them with the skills industry employers look for, another key theme was forging stronger relationships between schools, colleges and the engineering and manufacturing sectors.

Tom Dower, Principal at the South Durham UTC, said: “Equipping young people with the right skills and attitudes is absolutely vital to County Durham’s and the North East’s economic future.

“A big part of the challenge we face in this region is that there aren’t enough young people pursuing careers in the STEM-based industries, and that’s something that must change.

“We’re working on that here at the UTC but we can’t do it alone. Engagement with industry is vital and our students need to be given access to the right sorts of work opportunities placements, those placements that open their eyes to just how rewarding careers within engineering, manufacturing and science can be.”

Sora Group Managing Director Ian Tindle said: “We see every day the challenges the industry faces with regard to the skills gap that exists so we really wanted to team up with CDEMN to raise awareness of this important issue and hear from experts about what is being done to overcome these challenges.”

Other speakers on the evening included Andrew Hodgson, Chairman of the North East LEP; Margaret Whellans, Corporate Director of Children and Young Peoples Services at Durham County Council; Richard Hogg, Managing Director at Jackson Hogg Recruitment and Shirley Atkinson, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland.


Andrew Hodgson said: “There are so many positives here in the North East, not least our rising employment figures which mean the number of people out of work is now at just five per cent. However, we want that figure to be zero and key to achieving that are people and communities.

“We want to instil in people a confidence and can-do mentality, which then creates a positivity among our communities. It’s those things that for me will ensure that our region continues to prosper and can only be achieved by everyone working together in partnership.”

Shirley Atkinson spoke about her involvement in the establishment of the UTC and the challenges faced in setting it up. She said: “It took a lot of meetings and convincing of the Department of Education to get the green light on creating the UTC but we really believed it was needed and as we stand here tonight, there’s no doubt we’ve been proved right. What a fantastic facility it is and I’m in no doubt it will play a vital part in the growth of our STEM-based industries.”

Richard Hogg said: “The message I want to get across is that everyone deserves a chance. There are people who, on the face of it, aren’t what an employer is looking for, however in person possess all the qualities you’d want in a member of staff. Don’t write people off because of what you see on paper.”

Margaret Whellans said: “As a local authority we are absolutely committed to investing in and supporting our young people so they’re in the strongest possible position to access the many employment opportunities available with businesses across County Durham.”

Following their speeches, each took part in an audience Q&A facilitated by CDEMN Chairman David Land.

Ben Gilhespy, Operations Director at CDEMN, organised the dinner. He said: “Skills is such an important subject, especially here in the North East where we know there is a gap that could have a detrimental effect, particularly on our engineering and manufacturing sectors.

“The night’s speakers all offered their own insight into the challenges and opportunities the area faces, and I think overall the feeling is we’re on the right track to plugging the skills gap and driving up the number of young people who choose STEM-based subjects in higher education and ultimately, pursue careers within these areas.”