WITH today’s growing focus on a skills gap and the need to get youngsters equipped for the world of work, apprenticeships are very much in vogue.

An opportunity for school-leavers to learn their trade while earning a wage, apprenticeships allow teenagers to get their first footing into the world of work without incurring huge university debts.

But it’s not a new thing.

Speak to business bosses and leaders around the region and it’s amazing how many began their careers doing just the same, by starting on the bottom rung of the ladder and working their way up.

Darren Davidson is a perfect example.

He began as an apprentice in 1988 at the CAP Works site, in Newcastle.

Today, he’s managing director at Siemens Power Generation Services: Power and Gas UK.

His appointment was announced earlier year, when he took on the role from Graham Hartley.

The business, based in Newcastle, is responsible for servicing large gas turbines and Parsons steam turbines and generators in the UK and around the world.

Now firmly in place at the company, which has more than 600 staff, Mr Davidson says he aims to continue building on Mr Hartley’s successes, revealing he plans to focus on diversity and use of digital technology to drive innovation and create a long-term strategy for the organisation.

He joined Siemens more than a decade ago, and has since progressed through various leadership roles, with a recent secondment in Canada, where he led a thermal energy business, one of the highlights on his CV.

So how does he feel about returning to the North-East?

“When I started my career back in 1988 as an apprentice on this site, I wouldn’t have dreamt that one day I would be given the opportunity to lead the business”, he said.

But Mr Davidson is quick to turn the attention away from himself and towards the business, revealing shifts, both in the sector and in customer demands, require constant focus.

He’s also quick to stress the importance of giving staff the opportunity to learn and progress, just like he has done.

He added: “In the last three years, the energy market in the UK has evolved significantly.

“We’ve witnessed changes in energy policy, market dynamics and the emergence of evolving digital technologies.

“At Siemens, we continue to adapt our services to meet the demands of our growing client base, which includes the likes of Rolls-Royce alongside a range of leading energy customers.

“Going forward, key areas of focus for the business will include digitalisation, skills and talent development.

“Our customers tell us their main challenges lie in reliability of energy supply, keeping costs down for consumers and being sustainable in a changing market.

“Our aim is to support customers with those obstacles through long-term service packages, flexible support and by sharing our expertise and understanding of technology.

“To remain competitive and deliver the exceptional customer service that the business is renowned for, we will continue our focus on developing our people by offering them the skills and development required to help them reach their full potential and meet their career goals.”

Five minutes with… Darren Davidson

Favourite North-East building and why? I think it has to be the Theatre Royal, as it dominates the beautiful Grey Street, in Newcastle.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid? I started as a craft apprentice at the CA Parsons works in 1988, which has since become Siemens. I was paid £55 per week and remember feeling very rich.

What is the worst job you've had? I have never had a bad job. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve enjoyed all the jobs I’ve had.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner? I’m not the best cook but I’d probably cook steak on my BBQ.

What would your superpower be? Superman. Being able to fly would help me avoid the daily traffic on the Tyne Bridge and A1. I live in Whickham and the traffic can be terrible.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party: Sir Bobby Robson, Donald Trump, Alan Carr and Johnny Depp (but as Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean.)

Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much? Probably my lifelong commitment (or should I say life sentence) to Newcastle United Football Club. I buy a season ticket and always have done, even when I lived in Canada.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why? I enjoy following Sir Richard Branson. He has more followers than any of his companies, which always makes me think about the power of social media.

Favourite book? Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby. It’s based on the author’s experience of being an Arsenal fan. Each chapter is based on a particular match he remembers watching and how it relates to his life at the time.

When did you last cry? When I left my colleagues and moved back to the North-East from Canada. I was happy to come home but I’d had such a great experience living and working in Canada, so was very emotional.

What is your greatest achievement? My daughter Eve. She’s now 11 and I’m incredibly proud of her and how she’s growing up.

What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given? Communicate with your team, don’t try and hide, even if you have bad news to deliver. And be open, approachable and honest.

Favourite animal and why? An elephant. I visited Sri Lanka on holiday and we went to an elephant sanctuary, which was a fantastic experience.

Most famous person on your mobile phone? I don’t have any famous people in my phone book.

What was the last band you saw live? The last band I saw live was Kasabian when we lived near Toronto.

In another life I would be... An architect.

Who would play you in a film of your life? The actor Vince Vaughn. Many people have said we look alike but I’m not so sure.

What irritates you? Lack of manners and people being unpleasant to each other.