A GROUNDBREAKING £10m engineering centre of excellence will be built in the North-East to nurture the region's next generation of workers.

The South Durham University Technical College (UTC) will train youngsters at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.

Opening in 2016, it will be the first of its kind in the region.

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Bosses say it will teach up to 600 students a year and get more women into the industry.

Specialising in engineering and advanced manufacturing, the college is expected to help bridge the North-East’s worrying skills gap, with 8,500 workers expected to retire by 2016.

The plans are led by University of Sunderland, with support from Aycliffe-based train builder Hitachi and car parts maker Gestamp Tallent, which wants to create more than 300 posts.

The Northern Echo understands the development will be based close to Hitachi’s plant, which will open in 2016 and create 730 jobs.

Modelled on 1940s technical schools, UTCs provide extended work placements as well as core GCSE subjects, such as English, maths, science and IT, to improve skills.

Professor Gary Holmes, University of Sunderland’s pro-vice chancellor, said: “We want to create a college which makes a significant contribution to the region’s economy and prepares young people for successful careers.

“We will deliver a first-class education in an outstanding school.

“Expectations will be high and we need to ensure every student achieves their highest potential in all they do with us.

“We are also committed to addressing the gender gap that distorts the UK engineering labour market.

“The misconception is that engineering is oily, greasy work, but it’s an immensely hi-tech career using sophisticated electronics and mechanics.”

Prof Holmes added the college’s first intake will include up to 150 14-year-olds, with about 40 new teaching roles created.

Students will also join for post-16 courses.

The Government has now backed more than 50 UTCs, and Chancellor George Osborne, who confirmed the successful Aycliffe bid, said they will play a key role in the future of UK industry.

He added: “UTCs ensure young people have the right skills to maximise their potential.

“They provide the next generation of workers with skills to secure the high-tech jobs of the future.”

Ministers also approved a Scarborough UTC to focus on advanced engineering, which is backed by companies including chip maker McCain Foods and the University of Hull.