A CAMPAIGN set up by The Northern Echo to increase North-East apprenticeships played an important role in helping more than 38,000 people start work last year, a report has revealed.

New figures show Darlington led the way in the region after recording a 30 per cent rise in new apprentices, with 1,850 workers taking up posts.

The town, which has a population of 98,000, saw a larger increase than Hartlepool, which had 1,400 apprentices, Durham, which had 7,940 new starters, Newcastle, with 3,240 apprentices, and Redcar and Cleveland, which had 2,050 new starters in the last academic year.

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The figures, from the National Appenticeship Service (NAS), come after a damning all-party Business Select Committee last year said the Government's rush to get people into apprenticeships had damaged the quality of training and artificially inflated numbers.

The Foundation for Jobs campaign, led by the Northern Echo and Darlington Partnership, has tackled high levels of unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds, and already helped 102 young people into apprenticeships and 105 start internships during the last 12 months.

Mobile phone network firm, Everything Everywhere, led the way by taking on 37 apprentices, with car dealership Sherwoods taking on five new starters, who trained at Darlington College.

Alan Wallace, NAS head of apprenticeships employer accounts in the North-East, praised The Northern Echo's campaign for increasing apprenticeships.

He said: “The Foundation for Jobs campaign and the creation of over 100 apprenticeships is a fantastic success story and initiatives like this are vital to the growth of the local and wider national economy.

“Apprenticeships are the lifeblood of any business and fundamental to helping nurture the skills, expertise and talent needed for firms to remain competitive.

“Having the support of The Northern Echo to raise the profile of apprenticeships and highlight their many benefits should also not be underestimated.”

Councillor, Bill Dixon, leader of Darlington Borough Council, said apprenticeships were extremely important and were a key tool in increasing production in the North-East.

He said: “One of our key priorities for the area is to do all we can to make sure young people receive skills and training to get into work.

“In Darlington, businesses and public agencies are working together to increase the number of young people securing apprenticeships and I am delighted the town is being recognised as a place where we make apprenticeships happen.”