I TALK regularly about the importance of us having a skilled workforce in our region, to meet the needs of our businesses, not just now but in the future.

The best opportunity of finding these future employees is often at school. Unfortunately, all too often young people don’t have the right information to make informed career choices. For example, they may have pre-conceived ideas that a job in engineering is likely to be on the shop floor and involve getting hands-on with a greasy tool kit.

While I’m not saying jobs like that don’t exist, the range of engineering companies, manufacturing ground-breaking products in state-of-the-art factories is huge in the North East.

We believe the most effective route to widening students’ knowledge is to ensure they meet employers and learn about occupations at first hand. Indeed, we made this one of the key strands of our Stronger North-East campaign. As part of this strategy we recently organised a workshop with Tees Valley Combined Authority where we shared successful examples where companies had supported schools and colleges with really positive results. We are fortunate that in Tees Valley we have a careers service, one of only 20 hubs nationally, working with 35 secondary schools to increase the pupils’ knowledge of business and to increase the number of workplace visits across the area.

Tees Valley Combined Authority know that if there are four contacts with employers during a young person’s time at school they are also far less likely to become NEET (Not In Employment Education or Training).

A number of our members are doing their very best to help, including Jacobs and the Endeavour Partnership, who have developed an aptly named “Big Project” with Carmel Academy, Darlington. These businesses set a challenge for the pupils around a question they had to solve, with ten teams of up to ten young people taking part. The benefits are two ways as well, with the businesses also gaining valuable experience in mentoring, spotting talent early and raising brand awareness.

County Durham-based Esh Group has similarly led regionally, with their long-standing education and employer programme called Building My Skills where over 60 of North East businesses regularly go into schools to talk about the world of work. I urge everyone to explore how they can play their part in this important work.

James Ramsbotham is chief executive of North East England Chamber of Commerce.