NORTH-EAST companies are increasingly turning to apprenticeships as official figures hail the region’s employment level as a record high.

Figures show 1.19 million people are now in work in the region, which is a rise of 69,000 over the year.

However, unemployment still stands at 129,000, which is an increase of 5,000 over the last quarter.

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It means the North-East’s unemployment rate remains the UK’s highest at 9.6 per cent.

The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance reached 62,300, or 5.2 per cent in the period, compared to the national rate of 3.2 per cent.

But Chris Livingstone, from Jobcentre Plus, told The Northern Echo firms were now creating more jobs and were willing to look more closely at younger workers.

Ms Livingstone, senior operations manager for the Darlington and Tees Valley area, said: “There are more job opportunities in the region.

“We are also getting more employers signing up to give young people work experience.

“That has always been a barrier on their CVs.

“Across the Stockton and Redcar area, there have also been 4,000 apprenticeships, which are getting our young people on that first rung of the career ladder.

“There is growth in jobs in the manufacturing, retail and service sectors, and some construction growth too.

“The claimant count stands at 62,300, which represents a month-on-month drop of 2,300 and a yearly change of 24,500.”

Official figures from the Office for National Statistics said the North-East’s employment level is at a record high of 69.9 per cent.

Mark Stephenson, North East Chamber of Commerce policy and research manager, welcomed the news.

He added: “We have more people in employment in the North-East than we’ve ever had.

“The unemployment rate has decreased, which is welcome, although given the fluctuations in recent months, we will monitor what happens in the coming months before drawing any firm conclusions.

“Redressing the jobless figure remains one of the key challenges for policy makers, but the continued rise of employment in our region is welcomed, especially alongside the reduction in the claimant count.”