THE Duke of York has officially opened a car part maker’s factory and hailed the company’s commitment to apprenticeships.

Prince Andrew visited Nifco UK, in Eaglescliffe, near Stockton.

The company, which employs more than 400 North-East workers, makes millions of plastic components, from door handles to cup holders, for customers including Ford, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover and Sunderland-based Nissan.

Unveiling a plaque at its £12.8m factory, which provides the company with more manufacturing space and a research and development centre, the prince met Nifco’s 24 apprentices.

He said: “I talked to some of the apprentices, and it’s very clear the company is investing in its future by encouraging young people to take up apprenticeships.

“But there are not just apprentices on the shop floor; they are throughout the business and the company is really helping UK manufacturing.”

Toolmaker Josh Appleyard was previously named apprentice of the year at the Plastics Industry Awards, and hailed its focus on young workers.

The 19-year-old said: “The firm is going forward at quite a rate and it is great working here.

“This apprenticeship gives me the ability to get the qualifications I need to progress while at the same time giving me a good background to be successful in the future.”

Fellow apprentice toolmaker Tom Beagrie, also 19, added: “I was going to go to college but it was more written-based, whereas this is more hands-on and allows you to learn and gain experience as you go.”

See tomorrow's Northern Echo for more on Nifco's expansion and apprenticeship drive.