IT was fantastic to see figures showing UK manufacturing output is expanding at its fastest rate since early 2008, recording a seventh consecutive month of growth in November 2017.

At Nifco, we too have seen that upward trajectory, with sustained and controlled growth that has allowed us to expand our team over the last decade and make a move into multi-million pound premises that have helped ensure we are a sustainable business long into the future.

My role on various boards, and the strong spirit of collaboration that exists in this part of the world, means that businesses like Nifco – automotive and manufacturing companies – can share experiences and also exchange notes on the challenges they are facing, something that allows us to put in place a plan to tackle issues.

The challenges manufacturers face in the North-East are not unique.

Nor are they unique to this sector - the burning issue facing those of us operating in the automotive supply chain is skills.

The length and breadth of the country, the challenge for manufacturers is the same.

As the industry grows, and as we seek to capitalise on the opportunity (and sometimes the need) to expand, automation can only get us so far.

The requirement is for skilled people, and Brexit poses a massive risk to the attraction and retention of skills.

Manufacturing is a career pathway that should be enjoyed by all – men and women, young and old.

Whatever people’s background, there should be an opportunity for people to grow and develop in manufacturing.

Work being undertaken in schools, colleges and universities over the last few years is bearing fruit, and we know the focus we have seen on science, technology, English and maths will create an altogether more diverse workforce for businesses in the worlds of engineering and advanced manufacturing.

If the UK’s manufacturing sector is to continue on its impressive upward trajectory, especially in the context of Brexit, then we must see a more diverse workforce.

And it’s our job today to prepare this region for tomorrow.

Mike Matthews is managing director at car parts maker Nifco UK, in Eaglescliffe, near Stockton