Region: Durham


Youth employment advisors and business advisors from the landmark programme have been working alongside Infinite Learning and Development and Caterpillar to appoint the apprentice welders as the industry works to bridge its skills gap. 

Amongst the new recruits who are employed by Zenith People are Blane Raw, James Almond, Jamie Morrison, Jason Anderson, Jason Davison, Lauren Piercy, Shaun Whittle, Levi Watson, Daniel Hilton and Stephen Brook, all from Durham and the surrounding areas.

The trainee welders, who are aged between 18 and 22 years, will spend their initial four months at The Welding Academy completing practical training and their VRQ qualification before moving on to the shop floor at Caterpillar Peterlee where they will complete the NVQ element of their City & Guilds Engineering Level 2.

To help with the recruitment of the new starters Generation NE, which connects businesses in the region with the next generation of employees to future-proof their workforces and enhance their business offering, provided tailor-made support and advice, whilst County Durham Housing Group assisted with securing employability funding for a number of the apprentices who are tenants.

Keith Corbett, operations director at Infinite Learning and Development, said: “Generation NE was extremely supportive throughout the entire process. We work across a specialist industry, however the team put a huge amount of faith in us and have helped to recruit a fantastic team of future welders, including the academy’s first female welder, who I am confident will all go far in the industry.”

Claire Maddison, employability and skills officer at County Durham Housing Group, added: “We are delighted to be able to provide additional financial support for schemes such as these, especially when we’re helping people to carve their future career path.”

The Welding Academy was set up in partnership with Infinite Learning and Development, Caterpillar and New College Durham in 2012 to address a regional shortage of skilled MIG welders experienced by Caterpillar and its supply chain. Since its launch the academy has now trained 57 junior welders, and the programme and partners were recognised by SEMTA in February 2015, after they were named as finalists for the National Training Partner of the Year Awards in London.

Helen Hopper, employee services manager at Caterpillar Articulated Trucks, said: “Approximately four years ago, we looking into the market to try and recruit experienced welders, but found that in the North East there was a shortage of these skilled welders. 

“Since we partnered with Infinite Learning and Development and developed this bespoke Welding Level 2 apprenticeship programme, we have seen the retention rate for welding staff stabilise with approximately 90% of these ‘Junior Welders’ retained on completion of the programme, and the majority moving on to a start their Level 3 qualifications.

“The standard of welder produced, proves that the training programme is working and it’s in Caterpillar’s best interests to keep the programme and the success story going.”                                                

The youth employment programme, Generation NE is a collaboration between five local authorities, including Durham County Council, and the NELEP which is working with local businesses to support up to 2,000 young people aged between 17 and 24 years into sustainable employment over the next three years.

Cllr Neil Foster, cabinet member for regeneration and economic development at Durham County Council, said: “This is another great example of how the Generation NE programme is helping to link companies which have vacancies with potential candidates.

“As well as helping employers to find new recruits the scheme also offers tailored support to young people to help them gain the skills and qualifications they need. I wish all of these apprentices every success in their future career.”