WITH Britain’s economy flagging and children of the post-war baby boom about to leave school in search of work, the nation needed a way to train more skilled labour for its factories, mines and railways.

So The Industrial Training Act came into force in 1964, putting a levy on large companies which went back to those that took on apprentices.

That led to some of the biggest firms around Darlington and Aycliffe joining forces to set up a new state-of-the-art training centre.

South West Durham Training, on Aycliffe Business Park, was officially opened by Second World War hero pilot Sir Douglas Bader today (December 15) in 1967.

To mark the 50th anniversary, a celebratory event yesterday was hosted by BBC Breakfast presenter Steph McGovern.

Originally from Middlesbrough, she started her career at Black & Decker and worked on a project that saw her named Young Engineer for Britain at just 19.

Sometimes criticised for leaving industry to work as a business journalist, she said she hopes to use the power of the media to highlight some of the country’s best businesses, innovative work and the value of vocational training and apprentices.

She said: “I have broadcast from over 800 businesses in the UK and one of the things they are talking about is needing the skills that this type of place provides.

“The apprentice doesn’t just do all the technical stuff but is also really articulate, they are already in the world of work through their training and that stands them in amazing stead.”

She urged apprentices to share their passion with peers and tell them how good it can be to learn while you earn and for companies to recognise the apprentice may be better for their business than someone straight out of academia.

Miss McGovern said: “From here you can go on to amazing careers all over the world. It is great to see how much this place had developed, how much it had come on that what is going to help our economy, to make us great again.”

Chairman of the County Durham Engineering and Manufacturing Network David Land, an apprentice at SWDT in the 1970s, said apprenticeships can still lead to a career for life as the skills acquired can be applied in different roles.

He said: “I went through the departments finding out how things work, how things happen and that has been a staple part of my career.”

More than 10,000 apprentices have been through the SWDT doors since 1967 including some of today’s big hitters in business, engineering and manufacturing.

Dave Allison, one of its first intake in 1967 who returned as an instructor in 1973 and worked there for 40 years, said: “We have people gone through the centre who made the money, got qualified, then on to get degrees and become the managers and backbone of companies around the world.”

He spoke with pride of the centre’s first female apprentices in 1981, gaining Centre of Vocational Excellence status in 2002, an outstanding Ofsted rating in 2014 and four extensions of the site.

In 2017, South West Durham Training, in partnership with Bishop Auckland College, continues to work with major employers across the region and smaller firms that want to future-proof their business with new, skilled apprentices.

Some of the finest current trainees were recognised during the event with South West Durham Training's annual student awards.