A NORTH-EAST chemical industry organisation has underlined the importance of firms taking on more apprentices to strengthen the region's sector.

The North-East Process Industry Cluster (Nepic) says companies have to look at younger workers.

Bosses made the call during a Nepic awards dinner, where it celebrated the work of apprentices and firms across the North-East.

The event at Hardwick Hall, in Sedgefield, County Durham, attracted more than 400 guests, with organisers handing over thousands of pounds to workers, companies and schools.

George Ritchie, Sembcorp senior vice-president HR, and MP Andrew Jones, Parliament's apprenticeship ambassador, both highlighted the importance of apprentices at the ceremony.

Mr Ritchie said: “It is a crime that only 20 per cent of employers nationally have an apprentice.

“As a region, with the worst levels of youth unemployment and a desperate need to replenish our workforces, we must grasp the nettle and show that we care about our young people.

“With about 200,000 people in our supply chain alone, there is much more that employers can do.

“I urge every company in the process Industry, plus those in the vitally important supply chain, to take on at least one apprentice this year.”

Sembcorp has set up the Skills Development Programme, which includes three-year apprenticeships for 100 youngsters.

Award winners:

Apprenticeship Award; supply chain: Matthew Gunn, Jacobs UK

Apprenticeship Award; manufacturing (ongoing): Michael Atkinson, Sabic UK Petrochemicals

Apprenticeship Award; manufacturing (completed): Daniel Thompson, Lotte Chemical UK

Young Achiever; biotechnology and bioprocessing: Jonathan Haigh, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies

Young Achiever; commodity and petrochemicals: Dan Baker, Huntsman Pigments

Young Achiever; pharmaceuticals: Helen Taylor, Aesica Pharmaceuticals

Young Achiever; fine and speciality chemicals: Daniel Arkle, Chemoxy International

Young Achiever; support and supply chain: Dave Thompson, Sembcorp Utilities UK

Primary School Environmental Award: Bowes Hutchinson’s C of E Aided School, in Bowes, Barnard Castle, County Durham

Industrial Environmental Award: Returnable Packaging Solutions Limited, Middlesbrough

New Exporter Award: WRL Glass Media, Middlesbrough

Sustainability Award: MSD, Cramlington, Northumberland

Outstanding Contribution Award: Ken Home OBE, of K-Home International Limited, Thornaby, near Stockton