DARLINGTON’S cluster of manufacturing firms boasts a proud tradition of nurturing engineering talent.

From Nissan to Nifco, there are workers who learnt their trade in the workshops of a town that remains a bastion of traditional skills.

However, the recession that began to bite in 2008 forced some manufacturers to shed workers and scale back their commitment to apprenticeships.

A recent rise in demand across the sector, and an acknowledgment by the Government that engineering can be a key driver of recovery, has put apprenticeships back at the top of the economic agenda. Fears that an emerging skills shortage could stifle long-term growth have once again made the development of young, skilled workers a priority.

Engine manufacturer Cummins has stepped up its own programme, which replaces workers who are promoted or retire with a young apprentice.

Cummins has been working with Darlington College on the scheme.

Desmond McMenamin, assistant plant manager, said: “We see the apprentice programme as an important part of our all-round recruitment strategy.

“We are able to bring in high-quality people and provide them with the skills and experiences to support their long-term career development with Cummins.

“They can work for a major global organisation with a strong brand image in the diesel industry that can provide them with many opportunities.”

The recruits are given a four-year plan to build their skills and education, and are assigned a mentor to support them. They can move around the business and also gain experience at other companies.

For example, maintenance apprentices recently had the chance to work at Cleveland Systems, which provides the robotic systems used in Cummins’ Yarm Road factory.