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COMPANY leaders were given guidance on how they can help to narrow the skills gap after the issue was highlighted at the latest meeting of a business group.

Under the title Mind the Gap – Addressing Skills in the Tees Valley, guests were given an insight into the ever widening skills gap and its threat on the future growth of burgeoning businesses.

Presentations were put on by Jim French, Director of PD Portcentric Logistics, Kirsten Donkin who is the PR and Communications Manager at PD Ports, and Kevin Shakesheff from Casper Shipping Ltd and Chairman of the High Tide Foundation charity.

Helen Williamson, from the Government’s Skills Funding Agency, also gave an update on the current situation regarding apprenticeships and how businesses could take advantage of that market while Wendy Starks from Tees Valley Unlimited previewed the forthcoming Tees Valley Skills 2015 event which is being held in December.

Helen explained the benefits of recruiting apprentices, saying: “Around 80 per cent of businesses report an increase in productivity through apprenticeships, and they are a key issue in addressing the issue of the skills gap and making some development.

“There are plenty of opportunities for businesses to get involved, and after seeing the whole process of these schemes changed through trailblazing initiatives there are steps being taken in the right direction.”

Wendy pointed out that more work needs to be done to guide young people into work, particularly across the Tees Valley where youth unemployment remains higher than the national average.

She added: “There are plans to create 25,000 new jobs, to increase the number of enterprises by 3,200 and to increase the number of residents achieving NVQ level 3 and 4.

“They are ambitious targets, and there are challenges such as replacement demand, advanced technology, business growth, skills gaps, unemployment and inward migration.

“Recent figures show that when 841 apprenticeship vacancies were advertised, there were 7,541 people who applied for them.

“A total of 45 per cent of businesses struggle to recruit. Work is being carried out now with a view to looking at 2022 and supressing those challenges.

“There is still a long way to go, but we are making steps in the right direction and that must continue.”

Kirsten put together a presentation highlighting how PD Ports has reaped the benefits of taking on apprenticeships, with many of the firm’s workforce having started off on training schemes at its Teesport base.

“Apprenticeships are vital to our business, they are of great importance to both young people and to PD Ports,” she said.

“We face a big challenge with an ageing workforce as the average age of our workers is around 50 years old. Many of those started as apprentices, but we have identified the need to bridge that gap and that is something we are continually working towards.”

Kevin and his colleagues work closely with PD Ports and other businesses around Teesport to offer charitable activities set up to encourage youngsters to follow a career path into the industry.

He said: “We set out to inspire the young people on Teesside to find meaningful employment in the port and maritime industry.

“In some areas our youth unemployment is three times worse than the rest of the country. Some generations of families have never worked. We need to work on the next generation and inspire them to find employment.

“We have various schemes were schools and their teachers look around what we do, we take them on tours and show them how the river works. We have summer placement schemes in operation to give them work experience, and it is always pleasing and satisfying when we hear them talking about wanting to work in this area when they finish school.”

Jim finished the presentation by focusing on the logistical side of the business operating out of Teesport, revaling some figures which highlighted the whole issue surrounding the skills gap.

“In the logistics sector, 45 per cent are aged over 45 with just nine per cent under 25. That shows the problem quite clearly,” he said.

“We have tried to address that by setting up a Logistics Acdemy within Stockton Riverside College, where A Level students go on workshops and masterclasses to work alongside mentors and do internships with companies.

“There is a problem, but it needs to be addressed and now is the time to do it.”

Around 90 delegates attended the event, which was held at Crathorne Hall, near Yarm.

Jane Reynolds, of Tees Valley Business Club, said: “The TVBC believes its role is to raise awareness of the issues within the Tees Valley to the members.

“It is then for the individual businesses to engage with those issues and any contacts made, and the presentations which were put on at the meeting gave excellent guidance on how best to do that.”

The next event for Tees Valley Business Club members is entitled Working the Network, and will be held in The Marquee, at Wynyard Hall, on Thursday, October 22.

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Award Winning

PD Ports awarded Gold Status from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) for its commitment to health and safety excellence for the third consecutive year.

PD Ports - RoSPA Award Winner 2023