FROM the Highlands, to west Wales and the North-East of England, Ian Malcolm is no stranger to traversing the British mainland.

Now, however, his focus is on helping others take the best route towards improving their careers.

As managing director of Redcar-based car parts maker ElringKlinger (GB), Mr Malcolm has overseen the business’ rise, with lucrative contracts paving the way for outlays to fuel its expansion.

But that growth isn’t just limited to new equipment to fulfil orders.

It extends to an investment in people, with the next generation a key factor in the company’s plans.

The firm has almost 30 apprentices on its books, but Mr Malcolm, who was born in Aberdeen and brought up in Inverness, says Government indecision could force companies across the board to perform a U-turn on youth development.

Apprenticeships are back in vogue as firms, students and training providers work together to cut a worrying skills gap.

The shift in focus is marked, with university degrees thankfully no longer held up as an overarching panacea for industry needs.

But the ground feels unsteady.

The Apprentice Levy, rolled out by the Government in April last year, has drawn some ire.

The charge is applicable to businesses with an annual wage bill of more than £3m, which can then draw on the fund to finance training.

However, many companies and organisations say they have still to get their heads around its introduction.

For Mr Malcolm, the message is clear: keep it simple.

“We need a little bit more stability and joined-up thinking,” he said.

“Whichever Government has been in power has seemed to tweak the situation, making it harder for employers.

“People have worked hard to get apprenticeships back on the map and convince schools they are a viable option.

“There have been a lot more potential apprentices coming out of schools but there are not enough placements.

“There needs to be some real joined-up thinking between the business and education departments in Government.

“I look at Germany on this. They’ve had their training system for 50 years, they haven’t meddled with it and it works.

“Schools should be getting pupils ready for further education and employment, and what we want as businesses is people that are coming out with the right skills set.”

ElringKlinger has recruited apprentices for years, and its boss’ rallying call reflects a conscientious effort to make things better.

It’s what he’s done at the firm for more than two decades.

Joining as financial controller, after beginning his career as a chartered accountant, Mr Malcolm has always spoken about his determination to strengthen its market reputation.

His journey to the business, however, was somewhat circuitous.

Working in Cardiff for Touche Ross, now absorbed into the Deloitte behemoth, he was brought to the North-East in the mid-1980s through a relationship.

He knew the Klinger name already, since it had been an audit client of his prior to the merger that yielded today’s operation, and upon embarking on a two-year travelling adventure, which included working in New Zealand, he was quick to alert its then boss that he was looking to map out his future career.

Returning from his trip in the early 1990s, nothing was immediately forthcoming, but, after joining the NHS in a finance role, the car parts maker did come calling.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The company last year confirmed a £5m six-year supply deal with Ford to make catalyst and exhaust heat shields for new engines.

The agreement built on a £19.5m contract to supply the marque with complex gaskets and a £12m-a-year arrangement to make heat shields and gasket components for Jaguar Land Rover.

At the time, it said the £5m coup would create up to 20 new posts, thus bolstering its workforce, which already stretches into the hundreds, further.

But Mr Malcolm isn’t one to rest on his laurels.

The former Aberystwyth University international politics student wants more, pointing to healthy financial figures.

He said: “Things are going very well and ElringKlinger is a success story for the North-East.

“If you go back to the economic crisis, our turnover was £8.5m.

“We now expect it to be close to £40m.

“We’ve just got on with it and are constantly striving to improve further what we do.”

Five minutes with… Ian Malcolm

Favourite North-East building and why? Darlington Station. It is the gateway to the North-East if you’re coming from the South, the home of the railways and the best kept secret in the region.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid? I started working in a butcher’s shop at the age of 14 and got paid less than 50p per hour.

What is the worst job you've had? I haven’t had a worst job as I believe they have all had their good points. However, while I was at school, I did go fruit and potato picking locally. Those were probably the worst as people would pinch the punnets and bags I had collected.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner? I am famed for my roasts, but I really like to experiment for dinner parties, so I suspect you would get at least one course that I had never cooked before. I have a love of all sorts of food, so it could come from anywhere in the world.

What would your superpower be? Time travel. I would love to go back in history to experience some of the key events, not with a view to influencing them, simply to be part of them.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party: Ellen MacArthur and Ewan McGregor, as I’d love to talk to them about the endurance of some of the things they have done. Bonnie Prince Charlie, to understand why he stopped at Derby, instead of marching on to London, and Steve Jobs to try and get a feeling as to how he managed to take Apple to the business it is today.

Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much? I have been introduced to art and I recently bought a piece that cost a little over £2,000. Art does not have to be expensive. It is like wine in that there are two types - those you like and those you don’t.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why? Personally, I don’t really use Twitter and, seeing some of the things coming from supposedly responsible people in positions of great authority, I don’t think I will use it.

Favourite book? The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga. It is a really interesting account of the changing India.

When did you last cry? I can be quite sensitive and even cry at films. I don’t see crying as Taboo, as it is simply an expression of deep emotion.

What is your greatest achievement? Other than doing a bungee jump when being afraid of heights, I think taking ElringKlinger (GB) through the ups and downs of the last 15 years. These days, it’s more ups than downs, which just adds to the challenge and opportunity.

What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given? All that can be expected of you is your best. If you do that and it is not good enough for somebody else, then you have no control over that.

Favourite animal and why? I love dogs, although I don’t own one. Being away frequently would not be fair, and while I detest finding their mess on the streets, I also would find it difficult to run around with a pooper scooper. If I had a dog, I would have to live in the countryside with lots of places for us to explore.

Most famous person on your mobile phone? Who you know is not so important to me. I have the people most important to me on my phone, as well as some to whom I, or the business, is important to.

What was the last band you saw live? I’ve seen Runrig and Chris de Burgh, but the best evening recently was Ellie Pace’s Billy Joel Tribute – brilliant.

Describe your perfect night in: A roaring fire and lovely meal with wine, either just with my wife or with friends and family sitting chatting and chewing the cud.

In another life I would be... An engineer. I wish I had the insight into engineering when I left school that I do now.

Who would play you in a film of your life? Sir Sean Connery. I would have to have one canny Scot playing another. If he wasn’t available, then Bill Nighy would be a good substitute.

What irritates you? People either simply accepting things and doing nothing about those things, or saying ‘oh, I wish I had done that’, or ‘I wish I could do that’, when the only thing stopping them is themselves.

What's your secret talent? I sign a bit. I leave others to judge how well I do it. I have also played Bridge since being at school and we were schools national champions.