An image

News and commentary

Read the latest news and commentary from our Evidence Hub team.

From 7 May 2024, The North East Evidence Hub is a project of the North East Combined Authority. We may still refer to the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (or "the LEP") in some of our news articles.

How apprenticeships create new opportunities for businesses and workers in the North East

Apprenticeships are a critical component of the North East’s skills provision.

Looking at the Local Skills Improvement Plans which cover the North East LEP area - for the North of Tyne, and the four North East authorities - you can see the importance of technical skills for the future of the region’s economy. 

Whether it’s in engineering and manufacturing, construction, health and social care, green energy or the digital sector, access to the right skills is a prerequisite for business success. 

Apprenticeships account for thousands of new and upskilled entrants to the workforce every year, helping to meet that need. In 2022/23 there were 13,430 apprenticeship starts and 7,090 achievements. In both cases, the totals are larger than at the start of COVID and the North East has more starts per head than the national average.

More than half of North East apprenticeship starts in 2022/23 were in either health, public services and care, or business, administration and law. There were also large numbers in the North East strength sectors of engineering and manufacturing technologies, and in construction, planning and the built environment.

We often think about apprenticeships as something young people do, as an alternative to A-levels or university, but the reality is that under 19s made up around a quarter of North East apprenticeship learner starts in 2022/23.

The largest group is over 25s, who made up nearly half of starts. Many of these apprenticeship starts for over 25s are for higher level apprenticeships too, which made up over a quarter of all starts in the latest year.

This is testament to the power of apprenticeships to help people change career, reskill or upskill when already part of the workforce, helping them adapt to the changing needs of the economy.

Despite the advantages of apprenticeships for both businesses and students however, the overall trend in the number of apprenticeships has been downwards over the last five years. There was a particularly large fall between 2018/19 and 2019/20 and starts have settled at a lower level since.

The North East LEP has been engaging with businesses to understand their recruitment struggles and raise awareness of apprenticeships. We also recently commissioned research into the scale of apprenticeship reach and retention in the region which highlighted there are barriers to greater participation of 16-18 year olds in apprenticeships across attractions, employer understanding and recruitment. 

To counteract this the North East one of three areas taking part in a national pilot with government and UCAS to ensure 17- and 18-year-olds are made aware of apprenticeships alongside the information they receive on universities. 

Early data on signups suggests that this has led to more 18 years old signing up for vacancies at this point of the year than pre-pandemic in 2018/19, showing the region on course to meet government ambition to return starts to pre-pandemic figures.

Against that backdrop we asked partners delivering training provision and businesses, how well are apprenticeships working for the North East? And what more needs to be done to help them continue to play an important role in providing a skilled workforce?

Jackie Lanagan, Assistant Principal Curriculum and Partnerships at East Durham College, shares her views.

Apprenticeships have never been so important to the North East, they are becoming a popular alternative to university particularly in the cost of living crisis. We really need employers of all shapes and sizes to consider employing apprentices, 95% of our apprentices are retained by their employer, evidence that they make an impact in the business.

16–18-year-old apprenticeship starts have declined for complex reasons since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and changes to framework standards. We must reverse this downward trend and encourage more young people to take up an apprenticeship, you can gain your degree, gain real work experience, and earn a wage – what’s not to love about that? 

A point of consideration of course is the availability and quality of opportunities available to the young people of the Northeast, they are becoming more and more aspirational and subsequently the lower-level apprenticeship roles can be hard to fill.

When utilised and delivered well, apprenticeships add real value to a business, new talent often brings fresh ideas to the business and can stimulate growth in the organisation.

An apprentice is more likely to stay with the employer who invested in their development, and businesses need not be dissuaded from training apprentices for fear of losing them to their competitors, otherwise we will never tackle the recruitment issues we currently face in the region.

CASE STUDY - Alexander Battery Technologies, based in Peterlee explain how three apprentices are making an impact in their business

Ben is an exceptional worker; he continues to excel and take ownership in various areas of the business and in the Quality department. Ben continuously builds excellent customer rapport with one of Alexander Battery Technologies biggest customers, who comes on site to inspect products which goes straight to the customer’s distribution centre.

Ben’s task is to ensure all products have been inspected to the highest quality so customers’ confidence is high, and they can ship straight to the distribution centres.

The second of many things Ben excels in is that he manages calibration suppliers to come on site and calibrate the product, he then manages the register and ensures that all buildings on the site have calibrated equipment.

Amongst their day-to-day activities, Ellie and Harvey are making a positive contribution to the setup and migration of our existing processes into our new ERP system - IFS. Any business who has undergone this process understands the amount of work that is required, and Ellie and Harvey have contributed to a great deal to getting us over the finish line. Ellie and Harvey are also responsibility for creating production routings and BoM updates that are provided to the customer.

You can view more data and analysis around apprenticeships in the region on our report page here. Anyone wanting to know more about opportunities to access free support for recruiting apprentices can email